Berkeley Votes to Fund At-risk Edible School Programs

by Sarah Henry on April 17, 2012 · 15 comments

in berkeley bites,growing greens,kids & food,school food

Thumbs up: The BUSD votes to provide temporary funding to threatened school gardening and cooking programs. Photo: Rivka Mason

Late last Wednesday night, the Berkeley Unified School District School Board voted to authorize funding up to $350,000 for three elementary schools — Malcolm XRosa Parks, and Washington — that were in danger of losing their gardening and cooking programs for the next school year.

The move came as welcome news for all those involved in the programs and anyone who champions teaching children to eat, grow, and cook their greens.

“The Board showed a remarkable commitment to edible education by continuing to fund the garden and cooking programs at Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Washington next year,” said Leah Sokolofski, who supervises the program for the district. “The decision is dependent on the district receiving Network for a Healthy California funding. We are still waiting for more information to be released about the Network funding. The district’s current Network contract continues through September 30, 2012.”

Board member Leah Wilson made the motion and the final vote was 4-1, with the no vote cast by Josh Daniels, who wanted the Board to explore funding the programs at a scaled-down level, as a cost-saving measure, while still maintaining the core components of the program.

“I was also concerned that the decision would put the long-term health of the District’s meals program in jeopardy,” Daniels told Berkeleyside, as funds for the program will come from the Meal for the Needy surplus budget. “The $350,000 is being taken from funds that would go to our meals program, potentially forcing the meals programs to use up to almost half of its reserves in 2012-13.”

The cooking and gardening programs at the three schools, whose combined budgets are $372,000, were threatened because, under existing guidelines, they no longer qualify for federal monies as each of the schools has fewer than 50% of its students enrolled in the free and reduced-lunch program. BUSD school garden and cooking programs are funded through September 2012 through Network for a Healthy California, a state program that distributes federal monies to local school districts through a three-year grant.

The network seeks to improve the health of low-income Californians through increased fruit and vegetable consumption and daily activity. (BUSD is waiting to hear about the state’s allocations of federal funding for the next three years. It made the decision to find funds for the three at-risk schools on the assumption its guidelines regarding the free and reduced-lunch program percentage cut-offs remain unchanged.)

School children eat what they grow and learn while they garden and cook. Photo: Rivka Mason

In addition to the three schools whose funding was in jeopardy, the schools that currently receive federal funds for gardening and cooking instruction include Emerson, John Muir, Le Conte, and Thousand OaksBerkeley Arts Magnet, Cragmont, Jefferson, and Oxford fail to meet the criteria for these monies under current guidelines.

Earlier, the School Board had proposed offering funding of $300,000 spread over two years, with $150,000 earmarked the first year for the three schools about to lose gardening and cooking programs in the 2012-2013 school year, and a further $50,000 to four BUSD elementary schools who currently do not have such programs at all. But a vocal group calling itself the Berkeley Schools Gardening and Cooking Alliance wrote to the board in advance of last night’s meeting to make a case for why such funding would be both insufficient and ineffective.

“We ask that the Board consider allocating as much as possible to help us bridge this gap so we can keep these long-established, fully-integrated, successful programs going uninterrupted in as close to their present forms as possible for 2012-2013,” the letter reads. “We are seeking bridge funds for this one year only. We understand that any funds from the Board would be a one-time expenditure from a reserve fund rather than on-going structural support. And we are committed to using the coming year to work with the District and the larger Berkeley community to develop long-term, sustainable funding strategies for a district-wide programmatic approach for all elementary and middle schools who want to participate in these programs.”

For now, the alliance — made up of parents and community members — are celebrating this temporary reprieve. “We are of course extremely grateful to the School Board for giving us this lifeline, and the time it provides us to better execute a plan to save the gardening and cooking programs long-term,” said Malcolm X parent Joshua Room.  ”This will give us time to focus on corporate, community, individual donors and grants.” He added: “And we want to continue to work with the District over this next year, and in the years following, to protect these programs and to make similar programs available to all of the students in Berkeley.”

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside.

You might also like:

Berkeley Seeks Life Support for School Edible Programs
Berkeley School Gardening, Cooking Programs Face Cuts
Cultivating Controversy: In Defense of an Edible Education
New School Food Study: Victory for Alice Waters
Five Reasons for Optimism on the School Food Front

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart April 18, 2012 at 6:38 am

Such good news. Congrats to all those who made it happen.
Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart´s last [type] ..Product Review and Giveaway: Oreck Air Purifier

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Sarah Henry April 18, 2012 at 11:53 am

It’s certainly a testament to community effort, Rox.

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Erin Murphy-Graham April 20, 2012 at 9:51 am

Yippee!!! Bring on the collard greens pizza!

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Sarah Henry April 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Indeed, Erin.

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MyKidsEatSquid April 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm

This is such great news! Speaks volumes about the community, doesn’t it?

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Sarah Henry April 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Indeed, MKES.

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merr April 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm

It’s a smart decision and the effort to find the funds was time well spent. Glad to hear this news.

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Alexandra April 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm

So glad to hear this news.
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Living Large April 21, 2012 at 8:32 am

A very forward thinking community indeed.

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HeatherL April 22, 2012 at 4:17 pm

So glad they made the right decision and I hope that it carries over into other school districts. Have you every seen what they normally feed kids? It would make your hair stand on end.

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Sarah Henry April 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm

You thinking of pink slime — which is all over the media these days — for starters, Heather?

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Jane Boursaw April 22, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Awesome news. And gives me hope that perhaps some of those “people in charge” actually do care about programs like this and the people they benefit.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Rock of Ages International Poster: It’s All About the Tom Cruise Six-Pack

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Sarah Henry April 24, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Maybe even more than we think, Jane. I don’t envy folks charged with balancing these school budgets and dealing with urgent, conflicting needs in challenging times.

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