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School Supported Agriculture: A Delicious Revolution

Embracing cafeterias and regenerative, organic school food procurement practices for the health of students, farmers, and the planet.

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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

The Edible Schoolyard Project

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

City of Stockton, Office Mayor Michael D. Tubbs – Government | City of Stockton, Department of Parks and Recreation – Government | Stockton Unified School District – Government | Reinvent South Stockton Coalition – Community Revitalization Commission | Community Alliance with Family Farmers – Farmer Business Organization | University of California, Davis – Institution of Higher Education | San Joaquin Delta College – Institution of Higher Education.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Berkeley, California

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

The United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Stockton, a city in California's San Joaquin Valley, with an area of 168km^2

What country is your selected Place located in?

The United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Written by Stockton resident and ESYP team member Patricia Miller:

I am the Senior Community Service Officer for the Stockton Police Department, an urban farmer, and a track coach to 65 Stockton children, ages 5-18. In 1988 when I first moved to Stockton, the San Joaquin Valley produced and shipped 50% of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed in the US. So how could 27% of Stockton residents live below the poverty line? This was unfathomable to me! I could not understand how the disparities in wealth and access to good, healthy food could be so wide in my community. I saw church pantries giving away food every day of the week in Stockton. And even with the region’s natural bounty, the food was overwhelmingly processed, without beautiful, colorful, vibrant vegetables or fruit.

For 32 years, my focus within the Police Dept. has been to understand the climate of four neighborhoods in the city in relation to poverty, crime and blight, health care, and education. I’ve conducted extensive research on race, privilege, and food insecurity in Stockton. I realized early on that I couldn’t take on this journey of change without giving voice to my community. I engage directly with neighbors on a daily basis, and it became obvious, almost immediately, that low-income Stocktonians are systemically denied necessities for basic living. These families lack not only resources for, but access to, quality food.

Over more than 3 decades, I’ve seen firsthand how programs intended to help these families often perpetuate systems and cycles of unhealthy eating. I’ve heard too many stories, in a community nestled between fields regularly showered in pesticides, of children with asthma and breathing problems missing a lot of school, and ultimately hindering their education. I’ve seen so many families hurt with traumas related to health. And this is my community. So how do I help? How do I connect the dots? How do I build advocacy around health and well-being? This vision is our answer.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Stockton is a vibrant, diverse community nestled in California’s San Joaquin Valley – “the Agricultural Capital of the World.” Home to just over 310,000 people, Stockton is the 13th largest city in California and the seat of the sixth-largest agricultural county in the United States. 

Stockton lies in the fertile heart of the California Delta, an expansive, inland river delta and estuary, equidistant from the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Nevada. From its founding as a central point of commerce during the California Gold Rush, Stockton’s location – with access to an inland, deep-water port and close proximity to the San Francisco Bay – allowed the city to become a shipping point for both agricultural and manufacturing products.

Stockton has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild winters. In an average year with 13.8 inches of precipitation, 80% falls from October to April. Tule fog blankets the area during some winter days.

Rich in cultural and ethnic diversity, Stockton is demographically defined by the major waves of migration to California – the Gold Rush, the Dust Bowl, the Great Migration from the American South, and programs meant to attract Central Americans to the United States with agricultural jobs, like the Bracero program which began in Stockton in 1942. According to the United States Census Bureau, Stockton’s population is 44.7% White, 21.6% Asian, 11.8% African American, 0.7% Native American, and 0.8% Native Hawaiian, with 41.7% identifying as Latino/ Hispanic. Approximately 26% of residents were born outside of the United States.

Not surprisingly, the city’s make-up is reflected in its wide-ranging and flavorful culinary identity. Stockton is home to hundreds of food entrepreneurs, from women who sell tamales in their homes, to food vendors selling fresh elote from stands across the city, and decades-old restaurants specializing in an array of cuisines ranging from Taiwanese hot pot, to Filipino lumpia, and halal kebabs.

A true picture of food and agriculture in Stockton would be incomplete without looking further at the surrounding San Joaquin County. According to the 2015 San Joaquin County Crop Report, the gross value of agricultural production in the county was $2,732,917,000. The top seven crops – those that grossed higher than $100M – are, from high to low: almonds, milk, grapes, walnuts, cherries, cattle/calves, and tomatoes. In an average month, the agriculture workforce comprises of 23,037 people. The county has 3,580 farms, which sit on 88% of the county’s 1,426 square miles of land. Of those 787,015 acres of farmland, however, only 0.13% – 1,052 acres ( and 39 producers) – are certified organic.

Despite this bounty of agriculture, food insecurity persists in the region. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

A 2016 World Health Organization report identified the San Joaquin Valley as having the country’s worst air pollution. Significant responsibility falls on conventional farming systems, whose practices are geared toward increasing crop yields. Pesticides and fertilizers contaminate air, soil, and water. Industrial tilling increases dust pollution and diesel emissions. Worse, the Valley’s topography acts as a bowl and temperature inversion acts as a lid, trapping tainted air.

As a result of these economic and environmental factors, the Valley has the US’s highest asthma mortality rate. At least 10% of the population, especially children and the elderly, suffer from respiratory problems and chronic breathing disorders. Frontline communities – farmworkers and their families – are hit hardest.

Despite the Valley’s role as one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, many of its residents struggle with food insecurity and sufficient access to healthy foods. Many factors contribute to the lack of access. In Stockton, fresh, organic, culturally relevant produce is virtually inaccessible. In all of South Stockton, an area of the city historically marginalized by discriminatory zoning policies, there is only one grocery store.

Childhood food insecurity is both a systemic inequity and a public health concern. In Stockton, roughly 1 in 4 economically-disadvantaged students were found to be obese in fifth-grade physical fitness tests. Food insecure children also are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, and signs of chronic inflammation, which puts them at greater risk to develop cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and various cancers. Youth broadly – and especially food insecure children – rarely get the recommended five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day.

Numerous studies show that hungry kids have a harder time learning. School meals provide a decisive opportunity for intervention, but the federal policies in place to address food insecurity are both antiquated and cumbersome. The Stockton Unified School District, like most school districts in the country, is subsidized by the National School Lunch Program. Scholar and activist Jennifer Gaddis notes that while the NSLP serves as the primary social welfare program to fight hunger in schools, it also functions as a major public subsidy for “large-scale factory farms and processed food companies.” Smaller, values-driven vendors and producers struggle to compete with industrially produced foods, which dominate the NSLP’s mandated bidding process. These larger entities offer artificially low-prices, which don’t account for unseen external costs, such as the long-term negative impacts on the health of the environment and community described above. 

Per a 2015 Pew study, even when fresh fruits and vegetables are available, schools are often unable to process and prepare them: 87.5% of schools in the US report inadequate funding for training school food service workers.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our approach is multi-faceted and community-driven. We plan to leverage the purchasing power of Stockton’s 54 public schools to invest in farmers who take care of their land and their workers. We anticipate that this shift will encourage other farms to phase in regenerative practices, which will in turn increase availability and access to fresh organic produce, improve air and water quality, and offer more farmworkers a living wage.

To this end, ESYP and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) aim to streamline the food procurement process by developing new technological infrastructure. With an easy-to-navigate digital roadmap, we’ll simplify the NSLP-mandated bidding process and connect the school district to local, values-driven producers.

When the school district is empowered to focus on food, rather than paperwork, the Stockton community will see an increase in the quality and quantity of organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables in schools. Moreover, there will be significant opportunities for cost-saving. Early analysis by CAFF suggests that a school district spending $250,000 each year to ship purchase 2.5oz bags of pre-sliced, pre-packaged, conventionally-grown apples could save $180,000 by buying the same weight in whole, locally sourced, organic apples. Purchases like these would boost the local economy, and savings could be redirected toward staff, training, and equipment that enables food service workers to adopt more scratch-cooking practices.

During our year-long research and community engagement phase, Stockton parents and students have strongly advocated for delicious and culturally relevant meals in school. ESYP will provide the district with the training and resources to prepare the increased supply of fresh, seasonal produce into exactly such meals. Already, school food service workers have deep relationships with students and provide a great deal of care to our communities. A paradigm shift like this could exponentially increase student participation in school lunch, securing more federal funds from the NSLP reimbursement program.

To amplify the positive impacts on student diet, the environment, and the local economy, we will work to re-envision and activate lunch spaces. The cafeteria will be a space designed to gather and educate – and a new, culturally relevant cafeteria curriculum will allow us to harness the daily lunch hour for what it is: an enormous opportunity for learning. With 25 years of experience at the forefront of the field of edible education, we are working with teachers, food service workers, and the community to design lessons for the cafeteria. Together, we’ll use these spaces to build healthy, lifelong eating habits, foster a strong sense of belonging and community, and help students understand their role and power in the climate movement.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The Edible Schoolyard Project presents a bold vision for school supported agriculture in Stockton, California, one that leverages the purchasing power of schools to invest in a vibrant, regenerative agricultural system and supports a culture of care, belonging, and beauty in the district’s cafeterias — in short, a delicious revolution. Our Vision for 2050 is one in which:

  • All Stockton school food is procured from farmers and ranchers who care for the land regeneratively and treat their workers in a dignified and just way.

  • The San Joaquin Valley experiences a notable shift toward regenerative, organic agricultural practices.

  • All 54 Stockton schools prepare delicious, scratch-cooked meals that highlight diverse local and global food traditions—food that is healthy, sustainable, and culturally relevant.

  • Every Stockton cafeteria fosters care, inclusivity, belonging, and learning.

  • Learning is an inherent part of every school meal, and the values of nourishment, stewardship, and community are woven into the cafeteria experience. 

  • The success of Stockton’s School Supported Agriculture program emboldens state governments and school districts throughout the United States to adopt similar programs for the benefit of students, farmers, and the planet.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

“If we change the criteria for purchasing all food in public schools, buying directly from the farmers and ranchers that are caring for the land regeneratively, we will address climate change and teach the next generation the values of nourishment, stewardship, and community.” -Alice Waters, Founder and President of the Edible Schoolyard Project

We envision cafeterias as the heart of Stockton’s schools, where teachers and cooks alike use the daily meal to nourish students’ minds and bodies. We envision school lunch as an integral and necessary part of education, one that is provided at no cost to all students. 

We see school supported agriculture as a driving force in enabling shifts to farming practices that address and curtail climate change. To this end, we support farms that conserve the land through regenerative practices.

We envision farmers, farmworkers, cooks, and all other food system workers being fairly and justly compensated for their work. 

We see lunch as an academic subject. We envision informal and formal classrooms enlivened with transdisciplinary food-based curricula.

We see students empowered by a fuller understanding of how their food is grown and cooked. 


To achieve our vision, we focus our efforts on strategies that build capacity, resources, tools, and community.  These core strategies are cross-cutting and designed to be piloted in Stockton and widely adopted to create positive change in the school food system:

• Build Capacity and Leverage Resources

• Activate Cafeteria Spaces

• Connect Learning and School Food

• Energize People and Partners

Build Capacity and Leverage Resources

Our definition of capacity building encompasses many things, from advocating for policy changes to increasing support for regenerative agriculture procurement. We conduct research and data analysis to inform approaches to systems change. We utilize participatory methods that engage communities in defining solutions and convene stakeholders to support the implementation of those solutions. Goals of our work include, but are not limited to:

• Producing a framework for strategic planning and institutional shifts in procurement practices.

• Investing in partners who are developing technology and tools for districts to leverage so that nutrition services can focus more on food rather than paperwork.

• Developing and advocating for values-based policy changes that center students, farmers, and the environment.

• Partnering with institutions of higher education to conduct research to better understand the current school food landscape and identify opportunity areas for change, growth, and advancement. 

Activate Cafeteria Spaces

Utilizing strategies in museum education and focusing on learner-centered, experiential, and hands-on learning, we provide schools with materials, manipulatives, and tools that ignite learning for the walls, tables, and floors of the cafeteria. ESYP is piloting cafeteria ‘kits’; resources, and tools that encourage schools to see cafeterias as sites of informal learning. These kits are focused on learning in multimodal ways that support engagement around food systems. They are designed to foster healthy relationships between students and food and students with each other.

Kits will focus on enhancing learning in key cafeteria areas:

The transitional space between the formal classroom and the cafeteria. We see these locations, where students move from the classroom into the cafeteria, as places that can prompt learning on what will be experienced in the cafeteria.

Materials that communicate rituals and learning. Part of Edible Schoolyard’s successful model for edible education is the emphasis on rituals and routines that evoke wonder, curiosity, and connection in our kitchen and garden classrooms. We will create similar materials for the cafeteria, that build routines and rituals specific to the space.

A shared learning table. We will provide learning materials for the tables where students eat. Additionally, we will create a shared learning table, a dedicated space in the cafeteria with manipulatives for students. 

Connect Learning and School Food

Our educational frameworks align to our learning arc’s—learning in edible education that underscores exposure in K-5 grades, exploration in 6-8th grades and activation in 9-12th grades—and highlights the following objectives

• Teach students about regenerative agricultural practices and seasonality.

• Develop informed eaters that understand the connections between what they are eating and the global food supply chain and climate change. 

• Ignite curiosity and connection to what is being served in the cafeteria

• Support a cafeteria culture that fosters care, inclusivity, and belonging.

• Uplift the cultural food practices of local communities while highlighting broader global food traditions.

Energize People and Partners

We convene school food leaders and uplift their work. We partner with respected non-profits and institutions that offer expertise in school food. We seek to work with all stakeholders in school food including but not limited to food service workers, managers and directors, lunchroom monitors, custodians, teachers, school administrators, farmers, distributors, and processors. Our core actions for energizing people and partners include:

Creating a supportive network of vision aligned school food stakeholders.
• Utilizing Communities of Practice as a framework to share expertise and strategies for reaching our vision.
• Disseminating insights and tools developed by our Communities of Practice.

Developing and offering trainings that support school food service stakeholders.
• Connecting school food to the values of nourishment and stewardship to give larger purpose to the everyday work
• Teaching necessary skills including but not limited to culinary skills, management skills, and advocacy skills. 

“More than anything, this is about changing the pedagogy. It is an integration of farms, kitchens, and schools. It’s a way of making sure that children grow up feeling the soil with their own fingers and harvesting its bounty in the sunshine. It’s about understanding where their food comes from, who grows their food, what sort of work it takes. It’s about watching their own hands make the kind of beautiful, inexpensive food that can nourish the body and the spirit for their whole lives. This is how we raise the next generation of farmers. This is how we show our children that we vote for the kind of world we want every time we choose what to eat. This is how our children become valuable global citizens and stewards of the land.” - Alice Waters

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Friends


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