Focus Area:EducationSchool Food Initiative


Launched in 2007, the School Food Initiative is a natural expression of the Orfalea Foundation’s ongoing mission to improve children's health and education. 

In response to increasing requests for garden and food based grant money, we conducted a county-wide school food needs assessment and an educational campaign focusing on the connection between school food and the health of the community. We visited 110 of the 116 schools, from Santa Maria to Carpinteria, meticulously noting the kitchen equipment, staff training, and food-based education needs of each school district. The findings from this assessment resulted in a strategic plan for the Initiative.

Our first Culinary Boot Camp training for School Food Service Staff was held in the summer of 2008. Since then, we have trained over 300 employees throughout Santa Barbara County. This event empowers and reinvigorates Food Service Staff by offering them an opportunity to hone their culinary skills in the kitchen and re-energize their minds in the classroom.

During the 2008-2009 school year, the School Food Initiative began connecting with students in local schools to promote food literacy. One of our most comprehensive programs to date has been the integration of School Gardens into elementary schools. Each participating school receives on-going support from a Garden Education Manager who guides the experience, beginning with garden design and installation and continuing through planting and growing. Our intention is for each school garden to become an outdoor classroom that is incorporated into the school community’s culture and utilized to deliver curriculum standards.

We have also provided our participating elementary schools with Jr. Chef Day, an all-school cooking event. Spanning two days, this event gives students the chance to prepare a dish together and share it with the entire student body. Fresh local produce is featured, and students experience the joys of cooking. 

At the start of the 2011-2012 school year, we were proud to introduce our team of Mobile Chef Instructors. Five local Chefs were trained to support schools during the transition from serving processed and packaged foods to cooking from scratch. The chefs now lead our Culinary Boot Camps, visit our partner schools for regular “check-ins,” and design specific workshops and trainings upon request.

Today we continue to provide Strategic Funding for kitchen upgrades and equipment improvements. Our on-going professional development for School Food Service Workers maintains the motivation necessary for steady progress. New eating habits grow in school gardens every day, and Local Farmers have found viable customers in school cafeterias. Students love eating good food. With each bite of scratch-cooked lunch, we are one step closer to realizing our mission.