The Ventura Unified School District is the site of one of Southern California's pilot Farm to School programs. The project was spearheaded and driven by the Parent Teacher Association at Juanamaria Elementary School and is supported by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF). The program's goals are to provide local students with healthy lunches and nutrition education programs. The project has placed cafeteria salad bars stocked with local farm fresh produce, school gardens, and increased nutrition education in each of the district's schools.
In order to implement the program, members of the Juanamaria PTA sought out and received grant money from a number of institutions including the California Endowment, the Hansen Trust, and the Ventura County Department of Public Health. This money was used to purchase salad bars, hire additional staff, expand the school garden program, and hire a community health educator to reach out to the local adult population. Evaluations of the program during the 2001/02 school year showed that students and staff overwhelmingly chose the salad bar option at lunch when given a choice between that and a hot food option.
The produce for the Juanamaria salad bar came from three different locations: local farms through CAFF, the produce distributor Berryman, and through an agreement with the California Avocado Commission. Produce costs per salad bar day totaled about $151.00, delivery costs were generally $50.00, and the cost of additional cafeteria staff was $49.00 for a total cost of $220 per salad bar day. The start up cost of the program was approximately $6,800, paid for with grant funds, but now with more experience, school salad bars start up costs have dropped to about $3,400. Ventura Unified School District now has salad bars operating at three elementary schools and has expanded nutrition services, healthy meal options, and nutrition education at 24 schools through its Child Nutrition Services Program.
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