The group formed the same time that the Brooklyn Food Coalition itself formed, July 2009, and dovetailed into collaborating locally with Slow Food USA in their Time Out for Lunch Labor Day potlucks. (Some BFC members, though not all, are also Slow Food members). These potlucks were held all over the country to raise awareness about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (legislation currently in the house that could affect everything from how well school lunch is funded to how nutritional standards are updated); but in Brooklyn the potlucks also served to help jumpstart BFC members’ commitment to organizing locally.
From that successful event we embarked on another successful collaboration, this time with the NYC Alliance for CNR, a group of nonprofits and other organizations focused on advocating for changes to the 2010 Child Nutrition Reauthorization. The House Education and Labor committee held a hearing on the bill on July 1, and while the bill shows significant improvement it looks like at best we might see an increase in funding at about 6 cents per meal--not much cash to make the kind of revolutionary change school food needs to make.
But this is exactly why local organizing is so important. First, we need to start building momentum so we can get even more support for a robustly-funded CNR five years from now. Beyond the national picture, though, there are so many things parents, students, and educators can do locally to improve school wellness. You can form your own school wellness councils and partnership meetings to draft a school wellness policy. You can start school gardens. You can work together with other local schools for wider-spread changes.
I think it’s this third organizing--collaborating between schools--that is going to bring us closer to the tipping point with school food. For the past few years many schools have been working on these issues in isolation. In New York City parents must decipher a very complex bureaucracy with complex regulations in order to figure out what kinds of changes are possible and how to go about asking for those changes. The information and programs are out there, but they’re incredibly difficult to find on your own.
This summer and into the fall BFC will be creating an online resource for school food organizing. You can see the beginnings on our website, where we list tools, resources, programs, and political action opportunities. How we organize this information may change, and some of the information is specific to New York City; but anyone is welcome to keep checking in on our School Food group page as we continue to build our library.
Once school starts in the fall we will also collaborate with other organizations on a school food organizing training fair, where parents, educators, and students will be able to learn how to advocate for their schools--and just as importantly, where they will be able to network with other like-minded people who are also working to change school food. There’s a lot of “official” information we can share, but nothing replaces the stories and personal experiences of people actually on the ground working toward change.
As the fall continues we hope to speak to our leaders with a united voice and start advocating for more local sourcing of school food, among other changes.
The work of changing school food can be tiring, discouraging, frustrating. But it’s important for you to know that you are not alone. The more we share and work together the stronger we’ll become. We will change school food--together.
For more inspiration check out Chef Ann Cooper’s uber school food website The Lunchbox. It’s still under construction, but when it’s complete it will be a tremendous national resource.
A must-read for all school food reformers is Janet Poppendieck’s Free for All: Fixing School Food in America. This is a history of school food, an explanation of its challenges, and a discussion of what it will take to fix it. It’s an amazing resource.