Like most of the food movement folks in DC who are concerned with community food security and its relationship
with public health, I am very excited about the Healthy Schools Act of 2009 that is winding its way through the DC Council’s legislative process. Improving school cafeteria nutrition is long
overdue, as are the physical exercise provisions. This bill is a great first step and has the potential to positively impact
DC schools and the children who grow up here. I plan to testify in support of the bill at the hearing on February 9th and
I encourage others to join me!
However there are areas where I see the need for improvement. One of these has to do
with the lack of measures to enable District food enterprises to really take advantage of the farm to school provisions. In
other states, farm-to-school initiatives have created significant demand for produce grown by the states’ own farmers.
In a sense, this element is lacking in the Healthy Schools Act as proposed. Why? Well, DC has few farmers.
This, though, can be remedied by amending the Act to specifically cite the decades old DC law–the
“Food Production and Urban Garden Program” (DC Code §48-402). This law requires that the city “encourage…produce
markets throughout the District of Columbia to increase the supply of and demand for urban gardens.” It also calls for
“incentives and community outreach” to be used to ensure that vacant lots in DC are used to grow fresh, affordable
food. But the law has gone un-implemented.
What does this have to do with healthy schools and farm to school? The Food Production and Urban Garden
Program also required the schools to make “use of suitable portions of buildings and grounds” in furtherance of
Sadly, despite having over 20 vacant, unused school buildings and who knows how many greenhouses, none
of this has been done. Little else the city has done has been successful; as only one supermarket has opened in the most deprived areas in the last decade, and the only thing that approached a real live full-service farmers market
East of the River closed down just over a year ago (read about it here and here). The one remaining DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) employee who works on gardens and the environment is swamped
with all kinds of unrelated tasks by her bosses who lack the vision and desire to carry out the law as it applies to DPR.
There is no reason why the School Gardens Program provisions in the Healthy Schools Act cannot be used
to implement this law whose time has come. In fact, the farm to school provisions should require that the school system prioritize
the buying of fresh produce and processed food that has been grown inside the District to jumpstart this new market.
Only then will this legislation truly be fair for all citizens of the city. It would then go a long way
towards bringing more food to neighborhoods where it’s lacking, provide badly needed job training for green jobs in
urban agriculture, and improve public health.
I hope you will join in trying to make a good law better by encouraging our policymakers to go farther
and make this a stronger bill with better language.
Prior to the hearings the DC Council has released
a marked-up bill that mentions the Food Production and Urban Gardens Program law--however it still makes NO clear mention
of implementing the law or supporting urban agriculture.
An article entitled "Urban farmers fight nationwide to sow green biz" came out on February 5, 2010 that's right on point!