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Month in FOCUS Issue 29, August 17, 2010
IN THIS ISSUE: Click the title to jump straight to the story!
Senate approves its CNR bill at the expense of SNAP
Stakeholder Pledge
What's new in the Denver Public Schools Learning Lab?
This October's "Grassfed Beef Days"
Nudging kids toward healthier choices
Policy update
New grant opportunity: People's Garden School Pilot Program
Notable news
Upcoming events
Want to have your finger on the pulse of school food procurement?

Our site features a weekly update covering school food procurement in the news.

Click here for a more frequent, in-depth update than what you'll find in Month in FOCUS.
Welcome to the August 2010 Month in FOCUS

We hope you're enjoying the summer, whether it brings you more work or more play than usual!

Either way, we can tell you what our newsletter brings: tons of information you'll want to know about CNR, our Stakeholder Pledge, the Denver Public Schools Learning Lab, a grassroots effort supporting grassfed beef on school menus, a new website that features research-based solutions for "nudging" students in the right direction in the lunchroom, an interesting federal grant opportunity for school gardens, and the latest news and events about changing school food.

Read on!
Big news: Senate passes Child Nutrition bill, but puts SNAP funding at risk

On August 5th, the Senate passed The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (S. 3307) by unanimous consent. This bill provides important provisions, including a six-cent increase in federal school lunch reimbursements and expansion of school meal eligibility, and it gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to set nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools throughout the school day. The bill also includes an historic investment of $40 million in a farm to school competitive grant program.

Senator Blanche Lincoln and Majority Leader Harry Reid made intense efforts to bring the bill to the floor. These efforts paid off, but not without compromises and a major change to how the bill is paid for. The original bill, passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee in March, was paid for with $1 billion from bonus commodities, $1.3 billion from restructuring of the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) nutrition education program, and $2.2 billion from the conservation program EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program). The version of the bill passed last week now replaces the controversial cuts to EQIP with equally misguided cuts to SNAP (food stamp) benefits for millions of Americans. Specifically, this money comes from shortening the time frame for the temporary increase in SNAP benefits included in the 2009 stimulus bill. 

For more, jump to the policy update below.
Stakeholder Pledge update: have you signed yet?

As reported in July's Month in FOCUS, Stakeholder Liaison Sheilah Davidson has created our first-ever Stakeholder Pledge outlining the privileges enjoyed by and responsibilities inherent in being a FOCUS stakeholder.

We are pleased to report that seven school districts have signed on to our new Stakeholder Pledge in the past few weeks! Continued stakeholder input into this still-evolving process has shown us the need to slightly revise the document to make it easier for districts to sign on. We have changed the term "agreement" to "pledge" to reflect the non-binding nature of the paper. The intent remains the same, to make explicit what has been implicit up until now: the mutual commitment to work collaboratively, honorably, and open-mindedly to procure more healthful, more sustainably produced and regionally sourced food for school meals.

You can download the pledge here. Feel free to contact Sheilah with questions.
What's new in the Denver Public Schools Learning Lab?

Denver Public Schools (DPS), the second FOCUS Learning Lab, has made great strides in the last several months, and we're happy to share with our community news of their progress!
  • In April 2010, student chefs from Johnson and Wales University developed recipes using local pastured beef, then tested these recipes with students across the district.  The recipe winning the popular vote will be featured on the menu in 2010-2011.
  • DPS spent about $130,500 on Colorado-grown produce for the 2009-2010 school year, including over $4,500 worth of organic apples.
  • The buyer from DPS added specific local language in their produce bid renewal for 2010-2011.
  • Their produce vendor will be tracking Colorado-grown purchases for 2010-2011 and listing farm names with each order of fresh fruits and veggies.
  • On a monthly basis during 2010-2011, DPS will feature a Colorado Proud menu at all schools -- with all or nearly all of the menu items being sourced from Colorado growers. DPS' second Colorado Proud School Meal Day will take place on September 8, 2010, with a media event, garden tours, chef demos, and, of course, a Colorado Proud menu!
  • DPS continues to use milk from Colorado cows that have not been treated with rBST/rBGH.
  • DPS finalized its Garden to Cafeteria protocol so that community partner Slow Food Denver can coordinate school participation. You can download the protocol here [PDF]. Other tools from DPS will soon be available on our site, including local produce language and information on DPS' tracking mechanisms.
  • Scratch cooking classes have begun for DPS employees, with each class three weeks long, and produced with the assistance of local chefs. The training will allow DPS to pilot limited scratch cooking in select school kitchens.
DPS community partner Slow Food Denver's Andy Nowak reports: "We trained 120 DPS cooks in three areas: cold prep (prepared salads, salad bars, sandwiches), hot prep (casseroles using local pastured beef, chicken bake using precooked chicken) and breads (quick and yeast breads all using 50% whole wheat). These 120 cooks will now open 30 DPS kitchens with scratch cooking to serve about 50 schools total. The eight volunteer chefs that Slow Food Denver arranged will continue to work with DPS cooks throughout the year to help them improve their kitchen skills and time management. Leo [Lesh, Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services at DPS] was very happy with the three weeks and was very appreciative of everyone's efforts. It was a great [way] to launch this three-year program to convert all kitchens into scratch cooking."

You can read local news coverage of these great scratch cooking classes here and here, and review the DPS press release here.

Congratulations to DPS -- we can't wait to hear what else you're cooking up!
Coming this October: Grassfed Beef Days

In April, following discussions with grassfed beef producers at the FOCUS Annual Meeting in Chicago, NYC SchoolFood's Jorge Collazo took the initiative to gauge fellow school food service professionals' interest in piloting grassfed beef in their own lunch programs. One of Collazo's goals is to demonstrate to industry and government that there is a viable school lunch program market for grassfed beef, and what better way than to get some of the country's largest school districts on board with a coordinated effort?

In May, the conversation was elevated by Jennifer LeBarre of Oakland Unified School District, who suggested making the pilot part of National School Lunch Week in October.

More school food service professionals expressed their excitement about the idea and pledged participation in the event, and now there is a total of eight districts interested. All participants have indicated they will include grassfed beef on their menu on Wednesday, October 13 or Thursday, October 14. If your district would like to participate in Grassfed Beef Days, please email Sheilah Davidson to indicate your interest.

Late breaking news! Just this morning, Jorge Collazo shared with FOCUS that Sodexo has committed to offering grassfed beef in nearly 100 of its contracted schools during National School Lunch Week!

FOCUS plans to promote Grassfed Beef Days to media as a concerted effort among large school districts nationwide to show their support for more healthful, more sustainably produced and, in some cases, more regionally sourced food, in the form of grass-fed burgers, hot dogs, meatballs, or another creative dish. Stay tuned!
Nudging kids toward healthier lunchroom choices

We've seen that changing procurement practices is one of the most high-impact, meaningful ways to transform school food, but it can be helpful to tackle the issues from multiple angles. Smarter Lunchrooms is a new project from Cornell University that aims to design sustainable, research-based lunchrooms that subtly guide students to make smarter choices.

The project's creators explain:

What can a well-meaning school do to help their students eat healthier? One way might be to raise the prices on the less healthy foods. Another way might be to eliminate unhealthy choices from the food service menu.

Many schools are hesitant to go this far. They are in the very real position of also balancing concerns of profitability, compliance, variety, and unfairness to those who are income disadvantaged.

Another set of solutions has been largely overlooked. These are the lunchroom changes - the environmental changes - that can lead a student to unknowingly make healthier lunch choices without knowing they were "nudged" in that direction by the way the lunchroom was designed.
Displaying fresh produce in an appealing way

The site provides robust research, real-life case studies and plenty of tips for how to change the lunchroom to "nudge" kids toward healthier choices, such as re-naming menu items to sound more appetizing, making vegetables and fruit the "default" sides to a main dish, and displaying healthy foods in appealing, well-lit ways.

Is your district employing any of these tactics? If so, we'd love to hear about it!
Policy update


As reported above, the Senate passed its version of the Child Nutrition bill, but not without significant restructuring of the originally proposed funding sources, now involving a drastic cut in SNAP benefits. Before the House can vote on their bill, alternate funding offsets must be identified. A letter from 106 House Democrats is urging House leaders to pass a House Education and Labor Committee bill (H.R. 5504) that would make greater improvements in Child Nutrition Programs and fund them without making cuts to SNAP/food stamps. Watch for posting of the letter at http://www.frac.org.

The current child nutrition provisions expire on September 30, and members of Congress will only have about two weeks once they return from the summer recess to take action, or they will be forced to extend the sunset date in current law. If a final bill passes and gets signed into law with an increase in funding for school and related feeding programs, it will be the first federal funding increase for school meals in three decades.

Though all of our allies working on CNR would like to see improvements in the current bills, most are urging support for the proposed legislation. A full list of groups that have signed on in support of the House bill are on the Education and Labor Committee's Website.

The latest alerts from the Community Food Security Coalition and the Food Research and Action Center focus on supporting the House Bill without taking the funds from the SNAP program.

In contrast, the Council of the Great City Schools has sent a letter [PDF] opposing the House bill, echoing a concern shared by many school food professionals and advocates: that the proposed reimbursement rate increase is too little to keep pace with school meal costs, much less to support much-needed improvements.

On July 20th, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan released a memo [PDF] outlining work of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to deliver key information, tools and models to agricultural producers, describing programs that help farmers promote access to healthy foods for consumers through grants and reimbursements as well as programs that provide technical assistance and market information to help connect farmers to new local and regional marketing channels.
USDA People's Garden School Pilot program

There's an exciting new funding opportunity from USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) for public and non-profit organizations looking for ways to develop and run gardens at schools with high rates of poverty (public schools with 50 percent or more students eligible for free and reduced price meals).

The grants will utilize $1 million to fund the creation of these gardens and help to teach students about agricultural production practices, diet, and nutrition; contribute produce to supplement food provided at schools, student households, local food banks, or senior center nutrition programs; and conduct an evaluation of funded projects to learn more about the impacts of school gardens.

To view the USDA announcement, click here.

Applications are due October 8 by 5:00 PM ET. Good luck!
Notable news

A selection of news stories and reports, many of which originally appeared in our weekly procurement change news round-up. It's posted each week on the School Food FOCUS blog.

Brad Trudeau of Dallas ISD
Brad Trudeau of Dallas ISD
>> Chefs help craft healthier school lunches with local food (USA Today): This summary of the Chefs Move to Schools program includes commentary from Carol Chong of Miami-Dade Public Schools, Brad Trudeau of Dallas Independent School District, and Tony Geraci of Baltimore Public Schools, as well as from Nancy Rice of the School Nutrition Association, discussing the role of chefs in school lunch programs and the importance of giving children a high-quality meal.

>> Dallas ISD taking lead role in making school lunches more nutritious (Dallas Morning News): Dallas Independent School District announced a major overhaul of its cafeteria menus. Brown rice will replace white, breaded/pre-fried foods will appear less frequently, and hamburgers and oven-baked fries will be offered only once every two weeks in elementary and middle schools. Salads will feature romaine and spinach instead of iceberg; black bean burgers, hummus plates, and Asian chicken bowls are new additions. Nachos will no longer be served as part of reimbursable meals, but will still be available a la carte.

>> Schools dishing up a healthier lunch program this fall (Baxter Bulletin):
In concert with the First Lady's Let's Move initiative, work to improve the quality of school food in both individual schools and whole districts is profiled and features San Francisco's Balboa High School, Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, Los Angeles Unified School District, East Baton Rouge Parish, and Bancroft Elementary in Washington, D.C.

>> School Vending Machines Will Be Regulated Under New Bill (WBUR - Boston Public Radio): A bill restricting the types of foods and beverages sold in schools was recently passed by the Massachusetts State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick on July 30. The new law restricts foods high in calories, fat, and sodium, and encourages the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and juice with no additives. Plain drinking water must be made available to students for free throughout the school day. Boston Business Journal reported that the law contains provisions to expand Boston Public Schools' Chefs in Schools Initiative, a joint project of Project Bread, the City of Boston, the Boston Public Health Commission, and Harvard School of Public Health.

>> Study shows growing price gap between healthy and junk foods (Food Navigator): According to a new study in the journal Food Policy, there is a growing disparity between the price of more nutritious and less nutritious foods. Researchers from the University of Washington's Center for Public Health Nutrition and the Nutritional Sciences Program tracked prices of nutrient-dense and nutrient-poor foods from 2004 to 2008. Over the four-year period, they found that the supermarket price of the top 20% most nutrient-dense foods increased 29.2%, while those in the least nutrient-dense 20% rose by 16.1%.

>> Report Shows Federal Policies Discourage Farmers from Growing Fruits and Vegetables (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation): A new report from the Farmers' Legal Action Group, "Planting the Seeds for Public Health: How the Farm Bill Can Help Farmers to Produce and Distribute Healthy Foods," shows that federal policies impede farmers' ability to make fruits and vegetables more widely available and affordable. The report provides policy recommendations to help farmers to grow and distribute fruits and vegetables that could be put into action by the USDA alone or with action in the next Farm Bill. Download the full report here [PDF].
Upcoming events

September 10-12, 2010
Growing Power Urban and Small Farm Conference
Hosted by Growing Power, this international conference will teach participants how to plan, develop and grow small farms in urban and rural areas. Learn how to grow food year-round and how to can build markets for small farms. Discover how to play a part in creating a new food system that fosters better health and more closely-knit communities. Program Director Kathy Lawrence will present at the meeting on behalf of FOCUS.
State Fair Grounds, WI

September 22-23, 2010
National Food Policy Conference
This year's Consumer Federation of America conference will focus on child nutrition and health. The event will explore how to assure sustainability for these programs, examine food labeling issues, and discuss the application of the new Dietary Guidelines. Speakers will examine changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; discuss how to assure healthy environments for low-income children; explore the challenges of making healthier food products; and look at how best to incorporate evaluation into program development. Executive Director Toni Liquori will be in attendance representing FOCUS.
Washington, DC

September 27 - October 1, 2010
Massachusetts Harvest for Students Week
Schools will celebrate Massachusetts Harvest for Students Week 2010 by purchasing local foods for the students from local farmers, organizing farm tours for food service staff, and holding student recipe contests using local produce, among other activities.

October 16-19, 2010
Community Food Security Coalition Annual Conference - "Food, Culture, & Justice: The Gumbo That Unites Us All"
Participants will have the opportunity to see first-hand the unique regional and multi-cultural approach to food organizing taking place in New Orleans, as well as workshops and plenaries to inspire and educate about the food security movement. Session topics will include rebuilding local food economies, ending poverty and increasing food access, outcomes of the US Social Forum, environmental justice, public health links, food policy councils, urban agriculture, and more. Policy Program Manager and Stakeholder Liaison Sheilah Davidson will present on behalf of FOCUS.
New Orleans, LA

November 6-10, 2010
American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting & Exposition
The APHA Annual Meeting & Exposition is the oldest and largest gathering of public health professionals in the world, attracting more than 13,000 national and international physicians, administrators, nurses, educators, researchers, epidemiologists, and related health specialists. This year's conference centers on issues around social justice and public health. APHA's meeting program addresses current and emerging health science, policy, and practice issues in an effort to prevent disease and promote health. Toni Liquori will be in attendance representing FOCUS.
Denver, CO

November 12-13, 2010
Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) Annual Conference - "It Takes a Region: A Working Conference to Build our Northeast Food System"
The conference will look at exciting efforts underway in the region -- including alternative supply chain networks, food system assessments, regional planning, infrastructure initiatives, and policy advocacy. Participants will address pressing new issues in work groups, listening sessions, topical break-outs and open networking, and will continue to explore scale, size, geography and cross-sector partnerships. Kathy Lawrence is organizing an institutional purchasing workshop with Dana Hudson, Northeast Regional Lead at the National Farm to School Network.
Desmond Hotel and Conference Center, Albany, NY
School Food FOCUS is a national initiative that helps large school districts with 40,000 or more students procure more healthful, more sustainably produced and regionally sourced food so that children may perform better in school and be healthier in life. Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and launched in late 2008, FOCUS works with food service and other stakeholder groups to collect, analyze, and use food system data and peer-tested research to spur change in procurement methods. School Food FOCUS supports a network of people who are engaging nearly 30 large, primarily urban school districts in systems change and also facilitates the sharing of best practices and lessons learned.