California Thursdays Expanding in San Diego County

By Colin Cureton, CHIP Food Systems Director

The California Thursdays program of the Center for Ecoliteracy is changing the culture and practice of school food.

This year, CHIP is partnering with Center for Ecoliteracy expand participation in the program by San Diego County schools districts. This Thursday and Friday (Oct. 8th and 9th) we have been honored to have the Center for Ecoliteracy’s and school districts from across the county in town here in San Diego for this year’s state-wide California Thursdays orientation.

california_thursdaysFirst things first though- what is California Thursdays? At it’s root (pun intended), California Thursdays is a program in which schools commit to serving freshly-prepared, California-grown meals on Thursdays. As part of their participation, schools receive high quality marketing & communications materials, staff training, and other support from the Center for Ecoliteracy. In our years of experience helping grow the Farm to School movement, the California Thursdays marketing and educational materials are some of the best we’ve ever seen! These materials help make the case to decision-makers and the public for serving fresh, local food in schools. See this video for an introduction to California Thursdays in their own words.

california-thursdays-schools California Thursdays has rapidly grown from one participating district in 2013 (Oakland Unified) to now 58 school districts across the state. Theses districts serve 283 million (million!) meals per year to CA school children, or 31% of all CA students.

This year we are excited that 12 school districts in San Diego County will be participating in California Thursdays. That’s over a quarter of all districts in the County and, because those dozen school districts are many of the larger ones in the region, those districts contain almost 60% of all students in the County (or 316,000 students to be precise)! These districts contain 434 schools and collectively serve over 46 million meals annually. How exciting is that!?

IMG_4592This Thursday, the program orientation kicked off by gathering new CA Thursdays districts and several existing,
award-winning school food innovators in the California Thursdays network. Five school districts from around the state were awarded awards for innovation in school food: Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, Lodi Unified School District, Pittsburg Unified School District, Hemet Unified School District, and Natomas Unified School District. Special leadership awards were also awarded to San Diego’s own Fred Espinosa and Gary Petill of San Diego Unified School District.

This Friday, on-boarding districts gathered at the SDGE Energy Innovation Center for a full day of training. The morning included an introduction to the California Thursdays program, district self-assessments, cooking demonstrations, and a collaborative cooking activity. The salads prepared in this activity were served up at lunch along with several other delicious California Thursdays recipes including lemon-oregano chicken, jambalaya, and an impressive array of salads. Following lunch, district representative had an innovation exchange with the award-winning districts, a media training, and more. Throughout the weekend, school food service professionals were extended a level of respect and thoughtfulness that they so very much deserve but so rarely receive.

CHIP is excited to be partnering with Center for Ecoliteracy to help expand the California Thursdays program in San Diego County. Our first role in this process was to do heavy outreach to schools through the Farm to School Taskforce to recruit seven additional districts to participate in the program. Moving forward, details are being finalized but CHIP will be providing some coordination and evaluation support to ensure that this concentrated regional expansion of California Thursdays is a success in San Diego County. We consider Center for Ecoliteracy core partners in our food systems change work and are excited to see the California Thursdays continue the movement for bringing more fresh, healthy, local food to San Diego County students.

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