The school district’s nutrition program may be ending soon, but its representatives continue to search for other ways to teach Del Norte’s youngsters how to make healthy food choices.
Jonsun Baker talks beans with Mary Peacock Elementary students recently. Baker now works for the county. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
A $550,000 Network for a Healthy California grant, which funded Del Norte County Unified School District’s Nutrition Project, is set to end in September. Former Nutrition Project Coordinator Deborah Kravitz and 11 other staff members received layoff notices following the School Board’s April 25 meeting.
But Kravitz will continue to work for the district as its director of food services starting in July. She replaces retiring director Judy Wangerin.
In her new position, Kravitz said she will use her decade of experience on the Nutrition Project to bring back its core programs, especially Harvest of the Month and garden-enhanced nutrition education. She said she is also working with the University of California’s Cooperative Extension program, as well as Del Norte County’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to make sure local youths continue to receive nutrition education.
The county’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) had also received state funding to conduct nutrition education and obesity prevention, Kravitz said. Del Norte County currently shares about $250,000 in funding with Siskiyou and Trinity counties to do similar work.
“I will continually be on the lookout for ways we might be able to be funded by different grants,” Kravitz said. “Network (money) funded the school district’s Harvest of the Month program, where we had 125 classrooms participating and over 4,000 kids. That goes away unless we can find another funding source.”
One potential source is a memorandum of understanding the school district entered into with the Community Alliance of Family Farmers in April to help continue Harvest of the Month. CAFF, a non-profit organization that represents family farmers, would provide produce and money to print farmer profiles, Kravitz said.
Through its Harvest of the Month program, the district had spent about $20,000 a year on produce, Kravitz said. CAFF will provide $2,780 for produce and printing, she said. Kravitz said her goal is to buy fresh organic local produce from farmers as a way of emphasizing to students the benefits of buying local and buying fresh. She and a CAFF representative will meet with the owners of Del Norte’s Ocean Air Farms to set next year’s Harvest of the Month schedule, she said.
“The nice thing is even if we’re not Network-funded all the resources are available to us,” Kravitz said. “So if I can find a way to fund fruits or vegetables for taste testing and if those teachers in the classroom want to participate we can send them those educational resources.”
While the district’s nutrition grant is ending, the county is in the process of negotiating a new three-year contract with the Network for a Healthy California to provide nutrition education, said Melody Cannon, public health program manager for the county. The new contract may come with a slight increase in funding, she said. But Cannon said she wasn’t sure yet how the nutrition education program would work.
Because the funds are allocated based on population, larger counties have been able to subcontract their nutrition education programs back to their local school districts, Cannon said. And even though Del Norte County won’t be able to do that due to its sparse population, county nutrition representatives want to make sure the school district is still involved, she said.
Cannon said the county is also working with the UC Cooperative Extension’s nutrition program because its funding source wants to prevent the duplication of services.
“We’re working with the UC Davis extension and other nutrition professionals on how we can go forward,” she said. “We did meet with Deborah (Kravitz) to look at priority populations and after-school programs, which I’m really in support of.”
Another after-school programs that may participate in local nutrition education is Friday Night Live, Cannon said.
“The scope of the work requires us to do certain activities and we may not be able to prioritize that to the degree that I would like to meet the obligations set before us,” she said. “I want to make sure we maintain communication and collaboration.”
UC Cooperative Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program will fill in any local gaps in nutrition education, said Dorina Espinoza, youth, families and communities advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties. The program trains and provides support to local teachers to provide nutrition education, she said.
If the school district is able to maintain Harvest of the Month, the UC Cooperative Extension will try to compliment those efforts, Espinoza said.
“We have committed to talking over the summer to get a sense of what (nutrition education) will look like in this next school year,” she said. “I truly have been and continue to be impressed by work by Deborah Kravitz and the team in Del Norte County. They’ve done a superb job and I only hope we can complement what they’ve laid out as a groundwork.”