By Jiyoon Chon, NFSN Communications Manager

Farm to school enriches and empowers communities, bringing more farm-fresh, nourishing food into schools and supporting local jobs and economies. But it can also be a complex endeavor, requiring coordination and relationship-building across many people.

We also know that having a dedicated farm to school coordinator role at a school district can address many of these challenges. In addition to increasing the amount of local foods in school menus, farm to school coordinators may also help increase hands-on nutrition and food education in the classroom or school garden. This can create a ripple effect that not only benefits students, but also the entire school and broader community. 

National Farm to School Network spoke to a current Farm to School Program Specialist, Janelle Manzano from the San Diego Unified school district, to illuminate how this may look like in practice. Read on to learn more about Janelle’s unique role and how it supports her community! 

Can you summarize the main responsibilities of your role? What are the main things you coordinate to make farm to school possible in your school district?

My main responsibilities include overseeing our nutrition ed programs (assemblies, classroom presentations, taste kits, tastings, FoodCorps team, etc.), supporting school gardens, and supporting my Food Team (menu, marketing, procurement, testing, etc.). 

I must make sure all our programs and projects are ‘scalable’—we are a very large district of about 200 schools—and that our Farm to School programs help promote our menus and foods that we serve to our students. The main things I coordinate to make Farm to School happen in my district include writing and managing our state Farm to School grants.    

Are there any accomplishments that you're particularly proud to have achieved through your role? 

An accomplishment I am especially proud of is being rewarded $1.5 million dollars in state funding for Farm to School! With this grant funding, we were able to start family Farm to School themed picnics, expand our FoodCorps team, provide tasting kits to educators district-wide and of various grade levels, and so much more. Also with this funding, I have started creating impact reports each school year to track how many students our Farm to School programming has reached.

Why is your farm to school coordinator role important to your school district? 

My common example that I give to questions like this is that we (Food & Nutrition Services Teams) can serve all this “organic”, “local”, “free range” produce, chicken, etc., but if our students aren’t aware or don’t understand the significance of what these words mean or the people that grew, raised, or cooked that food for them—then they aren’t going to eat it and it’ll go to waste. 

Farm to School, and especially the nutrition education component, helps our students engage, learn, and taste all the delicious offerings that their school café has to offer. Destigmatizing school food is so important to gaining the trust of our students—especially with all the changes that school nutrition has seen these past few years from universal meals, kitchen/infrastructure grants, and the general growth of Farm to School programs nationally!

Are you also a current Farm to School Coordinator, or are you part of a school district that would love to hire one? Apply now for our Farm to School Coordinator Community of Practice and School District Working Group. Both are paid opportunities—learn more and apply here