School lunches are big business. As Korsha Wilson reported for YES! Magazine in November 2018, school districts nationwide spend a total of approximately $3 billion annually on food contracts, most of it with large farms. As Beth Hopping, co-founder of the Food Insight Group told YES! Magazine, “Wealth in the food system is concentrated in the hands of a few and has been extracted at the expense of the earth and people.” Now, however, organizations such as the Farm to School Network and Wholesome Wave, are working to make the food systems that supply schools, hospitals, and prisons more equitable.
New programs not only connect school children with local farms, they also create jobs in the community, and keep money in the community to support on-campus gardens and farm-fresh meals. A study in Georgia found that for every dollar the program spent, two dollars stayed in the state, instead of leaving to be invested in a large food company.
To succeed, however, organizations must adhere to local, state, and federal policies that often serve to benefit large, private food companies. “There’s a lot of underground scaffolding that keeps our food systems the way that they are,” Hopping told YES! Magazine. The goal is to rebuild that system “in a way that works for communities.”
To address these challenges, some organizations have created regional farm-to-institution “hubs.” These hubs employed trained personnel to clean and process local farm produce, meat, and dairy, which then go to schools, hospitals, and universities. These hubs increase the community’s number of skilled employees.
In 2018 Trump signed the US Farm Bill, legislation that sets policies for the agricultural industry. New provisions in the bill should make it easier for schools to work with local farms and buy their food locally. The hope is that will create equity for farms owned by women and people of color, and provide more nourishing food to underserved communities.
Korsha Williams, “What School Lunches Have To Do With Fixing Wealth Inequality,” YES! Magazine, November 13, 2018, https://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/what-school-lunches-have-to-do-with-fixing-wealth-inequality-20181113.
“Nationwide Campaign Calls on Aramark, Compass Group, and Sodexo to Reform Unjust Business Practices, Invest in Real Food,” Friends of Earth, September 4, 2018, https://foe.org/news/nationwide-campaign-calls-aramark-compass-group-sodexo-reform-unjust-business-practices-invest-real-food/.
Lindsay Oberst, “Why School Lunches in America Are Unhealthy and 10 Ways You Can Take Action to Improve Them,” Food Revolution Network, August 29, 2018, https://foodrevolution.org/blog/school-lunch-in-america/.
Student Researcher: Diana Mayorga (City College San Francisco)
Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer Levinson (City College San Francisco)