Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday he would increase school nutrition funding by 40%, to about $70 million and add a farm-to-school program for CDFA.

The state would set aside more than $10 million for establishing a grant program for school districts to participate in a farm-to-school incubator pilot project. CDFA calls the proposal “a roadmap for transformational change in the school food system that supports California farmers, expands food access, and helps achieve the state vision of a California for All.

The money would also support a working group to determine how to implement the program and to “explore how to create a more resilient and climate-smart food system,” according to the budget summary

The Community Alliance with Family Farmers called the proposal “a critical first step in ensuring all California kids have access to nutritious, sustainable and locally-grown California food.”

Nick Anicich, who works in CDFA’s Office of Farm-to-Fork, has noted that more than 1 billion school meals are served each year in California and the state invests more than $160 million into school food purchases. A central aim of the office is to encourage districts to purchase California grown foods.

“Farm-to-school is a priority but not the priority,” he stressed, however, in a presentation last week to the State Board of Food and Agriculture, explaining the importance of access and nutrition.

A bill offering a similar pilot program to the farm-to-school proposal would have specifically subsidized organic meals for Bay Area schools. It died in an appropriations committee last year. Asm. Cecilia Aguiar-Curry told Agri-Pulse she plans to reintroduce the measure this year and may expand it to hospitals and the prison system.

Jamie Johansson

California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson

California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson opposed the bill.

“It’s not about whether you’re eating an organic carrot or a conventional carrot,” he said in December. “It's about eating the carrot and not the Cheeto.”

CDFA Sec. Karen Ross repeated that quote recently in sharing her support for the proposed program in the budget. While the program is aimed at supporting “sustainable food systems,” it does not appear to set limits on how the food is grown.

Yet Newsom could be on board with an organic proposal. His wine company has been shifting toward all-organic vineyard management. During a press conference on the budget, Newsom also said First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom has been working on reforming school nutrition programs alongside prominent organic foods advocate and billionaire Kat Taylor.

The first partner has also worked closely with Ross and Anicich, touring school food and garden programs together last year.

Taylor is the wife of democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer and runs TomKat Ranch. The 1,800-acre cattle ranch is “a learning laboratory” for studying and promoting sustainable and regenerative ag practices. The billionaires have advocated heavily on environmental issues through their hedge fund management over the decades, while their non-profit charity and an educational foundation have funded UC climate-smart ag research projects and policy papers lobbying for organic and regenerative agriculture.

Two of the organizations working with the first partner on the nutrition reforms are supported by Kat Taylor and have led campaigns marketing organic foods to children.


(Top photo: Jennifer Siebel Newsom attends Gov. Newsom's budget press conference.)