Commentary: We can all help Californians appreciate agriculture

Issue Date: June 13, 2018
By Tammy Anderson-Wise
Tammy Anderson-Wise
Free, classroom-based nutrition programs from the Dairy Council of California aim to help students make a strong farm-to-school connection.
Photo/Dairy Council of California

From new regulations to heightened scrutiny by consumers, retailers and foodservice partners, it's no secret that California agriculture is under pressure--but huge opportunity exists through education.

California agriculture has the opportunity to build upon increased interest in food to educate families about the important work that occurs to bring food from farm to plate, as well as the nutrition profile of farm products, ultimately creating a value for agriculture and lifelong healthy eating.

At the crux of all this is the need to improve agricultural literacy. Programs such as the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom provide a great way for agriculture to be represented to young people, but there is more to be done. Farmers, producers, processors and ranchers all have a role to play to make lasting change.

When children learn where their food comes from, they gain an understanding and value for agriculture that stays with them for the rest of their lives. For Dairy Council of California, creating a lifelong value for the five food groups starts in schools, which increasingly serve as the nexus of community health.

Dairy Council of California provides free, classroom-based nutrition education programs that align with Common Core State Standards and reach more than 2.4 million schoolchildren and parents each year. To reinforce classroom programs, Mobile Dairy Classroom—an interactive learning lab that brings a live cow and calf to California schools—showcases how dairy products get from the farm to the plate. Children make a strong farm-to-school connection when programs reach them in and out of the classroom.

Through the school cafeteria, agriculture can also build a lifelong value for nutritious foods. The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement uses creative displays to nudge students to select fruits, vegetables, whole grains and milk for meals at school, reinforcing the education they receive in the classroom. Dairy Council of California has trained more than 54 school districts in California on how to use Smarter Lunchrooms Movement tactics to encourage consumption of the five food groups and reduce waste.

While these strategies are impactful, one of the best sources of information to create behavior change comes straight from the agriculture community.

Every year, Dairy Council of California works with dairy producers and processors to host farm tours for school foodservice professionals, registered dietitian nutritionists and other influential groups. The tours provide insight into dairy farming practices, animal welfare, milk processing and sustainability efforts. Many attendees leave the tour with a newfound appreciation and deeper understanding of the hard work and care involved in making dairy foods readily available to consumers.

All farmers, ranchers, producers and processors play an important role in sharing California agriculture's story. Here are a few ways you can educate children and families and create a lifelong passion for agriculture:

  • Advocate for nutrition education and agricultural literacy programs to be used in your local schools.
  • Open your farm or processing facility to school and public tours.
  • Participate in local health fairs and other community events.
  • Volunteer for your school district's wellness committee.

While the agriculture community can make a difference, we can't do it alone. It's critical that we convene with key partners outside of agriculture to build environments that not only support systemwide nutrition education but also focus on access to nutritious food.

Recently, students, parents and organizations across California came together to champion access to school meals. State Senate Bill 138 recently passed, and its implementation will allow the seamless enrollment of more than 650,000 students in free school meals through Medi-Cal direct certification. This new legislation ensures students have breakfast and lunch available through federal universal meal provisions. This is tantamount to increasing student access to fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and dairy foods, since all are integral components of school meal programs.

The California agriculture community has a unique opportunity to connect with children and families, while also supporting health. Encouraging local schools to use classroom-based nutrition education and agriculture literacy programs, sharing how children can receive balanced meals all year long, and telling your story can make a difference in the life of a child.

For nearly 100 years, Dairy Council of California has worked on behalf of dairy farm families and local distributors to elevate the health of children and families in California through the pursuit of lifelong healthy eating habits. As we look to the future, one thing is certain—we can create a lasting value and understanding of agriculture if growers, producers, ranchers, processors and other members of the agriculture community work together to engage with audiences and share our story.

(Tammy Anderson-Wise is CEO of Dairy Council of California.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.