Three recent grants totaling $1.5 million will make it possible for Occidental College’s Urban & Environmental Policy Institute to expand regional food justice projects that over the past two decades have led to healthier food choices in public schools and created new markets for local small farmers.
Funding from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health ($900,000), U.S. Department of Agriculture ($500,000), and The California Endowment ($100,000) will expand UEPI’s efforts to engage students and community partners to bring farm-fresh food to low-income and working poor residents through public schools and in gentrifying neighborhoods. The grants will create 30 new internships for Occidental students over three years.
With support of the Department of Public Health’s Champions for Change Program, UEPI will expand its nationally recognized Farm to School programs through work in Los Angeles schools and preschools. "The initiative will bring much-needed nutrition education resources to parents at local public schools, provide support to build schools gardens, and guide schools towards sourcing locally-grown fruits and vegetables in school cafeterias," says UEPI Project Director Rosa Romero.
Funding from The California Endowment (TCE), the state’s largest health foundation, will support work to engage parents to advocate for healthy food, smarter lunchrooms, and wellness policies at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights. This work builds upon the decades-long work of the Healthy School Food Coalition. "The California Endowment sees power building strategies as a driver for improved health," says Jennifer Ybarra, TCE program manager. "Organizing parents to take charge of the food and health futures of their children is critical."
The Market Together project, funded by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, will support community-based research in Northeast Los Angeles to identify barriers to farmers’ market success faced by farmers, market operators, and community members, as well as develop potential community-based solutions to marketing and promotion challenges.
In partnership with farmers’ market operators, neighborhood tenant organizations and local artists, the project’s goal is to strengthen the capacity of farmers’ markets to meet the food and nutrition needs in low-income, food-assistance eligible, and gentrifying neighborhoods. Students will have the opportunity to engage in projects with the aim of creating farmers’ markets that serve as inclusive spaces for all community members and provide sustainable economic opportunities for local businesses and farmers.
Occidental’s long track record of success is a key factor behind the new grants, says Congressmember Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles. "Occidental has worked hard to be a community leader in Los Angeles, not just in higher education but as an indispensable partner to its neighbors in Northeast LA. Many residents in the area work hard but earn modest incomes. It's hard to afford -- or sometimes even find -- fresh, healthy food. We are fortunate that Occidental has stepped up to the plate through its Market Together program, and I'm delighted that we now have the federal grant to allow Occidental to expand the program's reach. Angelenos eligible for food assistance will benefit from locally grown food, which will promote healthy eating and, in turn, support local farmers and our region's economy. That's a win-win for everyone."
Occidental students also benefit, says UEPI intern Ryder Bennell ’20, of Freeport, Maine. "One of the most meaningful aspects of this internship is being exposed to the various communities of Los Angeles. It’s exciting to know that the work we’re doing will directly benefit the well-being of many families and individuals, all through the connection of food."
Farmers’ markets are often seen as yet another symptom of how neighborhoods are changing to serve more affluent members, notes UEPI project director Megan Bomba. "But with the right planning they can actually create common ground and serve all community members, and help build a robust local food economy."
UEPI has been at the forefront of food justice and community food systems change focused on school-based food and health initiatives for nearly 20 years. UEPI spearheaded the formation of some of the first Farm to School programs in the country, and piloted and pioneered Farm to Preschool, the first nationally-recognized preschool curriculum and program model to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables among children under 5.
UEPI was one of the leading agencies in the 2002 Los Angeles Unified School District "soda ban," and since then has organized LAUSD students and parents in support of the current School Wellness Policy and around the district’s commitment to the Los Angeles Food Policy Council’s Good Food Procurement Pledge. UEPI has been a contracted partner with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health under the RENEW and Choose Health LA initiatives, and has collaborated with numerous agencies on health and food systems projects.