Organic Farm to School Mapping Project

At Conscious Kitchen, we strive to propel food systems change and school-supported agriculture, while educating, empowering, and mobilizing next generation leaders from diverse backgrounds interested in food justice and a healthy future. To work toward that goal, we are engaging college students studying agriculture, food systems, nutrition, climate and environmental studies, community development, business, marketing and other related fields in the Central Coast in Spring/Summer 2023.

Where is school food sourced from? Who grows it? How can small and medium sized farms succeed in organic agriculture? How can we better expand the farm-to-school pipeline?

Through our Organic Farm to School Mapping Project, Conscious Kitchen seeks to answer these questions with a focus on the Central Coast, often referred to as the “Salad Bowl” of California. Over 100 organic farmers from diverse backgrounds nourish people and steward the land in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. Mapping seasonal harvests, crop plans and addressing farmer needs will strengthen school food systems, supply chains and procurement throughout the region. This work is being carried out by Conscious Kitchen and next generation food system leaders, a cohort of driven bilingual college and university students, engaging with farmers on-the-ground.

Project Goals:

  • To work with organic farmers to learn about farming history, crop plans and seasonal offerings
  • To create a comprehensive map of organic farms in the region
  • To understand barriers farmers face and where support is needed (marketing, website, equipment, business plans, translation, processing, etc.)
  • To create opportunities for organic farmers to sell into the school food marketplace (connecting growers with members of school food service, matching needs with crop plans/surplus harvests/budgets)
  • To expand fresh, local, organic meals for California kids in California school

Alternative Spring Break 2023:

What better way to spend spring break than conducting on-the-ground research to build food systems that support the health and wellbeing of people and planet? That’s exactly what Conscious Kitchen did with a passionate cohort of six local college and university students this spring. These undergraduates said yes to hands-on research, advocacy, community-building and justice — coming from various fields of study, including environmental science, food systems, global studies, nutrition, and geography, to bring unique perspectives and fresh ideas to the project. Read about the experience on our blog and day by day breakdown on @ConsciousKitchn feed.

Ongoing commitments:

At the culmination of the week, we brought together 22 members of the Central Coast community (farmers, distributors, school district food service leaders and more) with our Organic Farm to School Mapping Project team for a fresh, local, organic, delicious farm to table meal — at Chef Becky Herbert’s Farmhouse Cafe in San Benito — and rich conversation. Together, we are committing to collaboration and supporting shared efforts to:

  • Seek opportunities that provide meaningful, relevant, multifaceted support to farmers and schools.
  • Remove barriers for organic farmers to enter the school food marketplace.
  • Enhance the livelihood of organic farmers so they become prosperous. 
  • Incentivize and inspire the next generation of organic farmers.
  • Prompt school districts and communities to purchase organic, fairly-priced produce, locally.
  • Bring healthy, pesticide, antibiotic, hormone-free food with integrity to the children of the Central Coast. 
  • Nourish the minds and bodies of the next generations by connecting them with community food systems. 
  • Provide technical assistance to small farmers so they become self-sufficient.
  • Educate our communities about the “why” behind organic agriculture.
  • Advance policy work around funding nutritious school meals.

Key farms visited to date:

  • Bucio Organic Farm in Salinas, CA
    with Farmer Rigoberto Bucio
  • Induchucuiti Organic Farm in Salinas, CA
    with Farmer Celsa Ortega
  • The Queen of Vegetables Organic Farm in Salinas, CA 
    with Farmer Yadira Mendiola 
  • Sun Valley Farms in Watsonville, CA
    with Farmer Rogelio Ponce
  • ALD&Y in Salinas, CA
    with Farmer Guillermo Lazaro
  • Watsonville Coast Produce in Watsonville, CA 
    with Organic Sales Lead Chris Little
  • Narci Organic Farms in San Juan Bautista, CA 
    with Farmer Maria Reyes + her daughters; Yesenia and Angelica
  • Live Oak School District in Santa Cruz, CA
    with Child Nutrition Director Kelsey Perusse and Child Nutrition Manager Sanra Ritten
  • JSM Organics in Royal Oaks, CA 
    with Farmer Javier Zamora
  • Land Trust of Santa Cruz County + Esperanza Community Farms in Watsonville, CA
    with Co-Leader Mireya Gomez-Contreras
  • Visit to the Hikari Farms in Watsonville, CA
    with Farmer and Doctor Janet Nagamine

“The choice to be an organic farmer in a country that does not support organic farming is a very difficult and honorable one to make. It shows a belief in a movement, belief in a livelihood, and people willing to take on personal sacrifice to make sure that people they don’t even know are healthy. It puts faith into the quality over quantity argument. Cutting corners doesn’t get you, your people, or you land anywhere.”

~ Liam Chok, Student, UC Berkeley studying Geography, Society & Environment and Portuguese. 

“Organic farming is extremely important in our world’s resilience against climate change. Organic farming keeps the integrity of the soil, it keeps out air clean, and it also keeps those who are consuming those products healthy. I think we need to come together to create more creative solutions to be able to properly compensate these farmers for their work”

~ Aspen Garrido, Student, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo studying Environmental Management and Protection and Indigenous Studies in Natural Resources

“This experience was eye-opening and grounding. It definitely solidified my passion for community based work and I greatly cherish the small conversations we had as a cohort with Conscious Kitchen staff and their enthusiasm to give back to students and stakeholders in our food system.”

~ Ximena Verduzco-Villanueva, Student, UC Berkeley studying Environmental Science, Global Public Health and Food Systems. 

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