Testimony on the Nutrition Equity Act, May 19, 2021
Jennifer Mampara, FRESHFARM
Testimony for the DC Council Committee on Human Services Hearing on the Nutrition Equity Amendment
May 19, 2021
Thank you Councilmember Nadeau for convening this hearing about the proposed Nutrition Equity Amendment Act. My name is Jennifer Mampara, and I am the Director of Education at FRESHFARM, a DC-based non-profit that operates producer-only farmers markets, pioneering food distribution programs, and FoodPrints – an innovative food education program.
FoodPrints embeds hands-on food education in DC public elementary schools, and over the past 12 years has demonstrated a significant return on investment for the city in the areas of health, whole child education, academic enrichment and environmental literacy.
One investment the Nutrition Equity Amendment Act proposes to make is $3.5 million per year to support access to experiential food education for elementary school students through OSSE. I am here today to endorse this priority of the amendment and offer feedback on the funding distribution model.
Investments in Experiential Food Education Helps Level the Nutrition Playing Field
FoodPrints brings equitable access to hands-on food education to public elementary schools, with a focus on historically underserved areas, by integrating into the academic and social curriculum at schools. Our model provides opportunities for children to have meaningful, joyful experiences growing, cooking, learning about and eating nutritious food together. This approach has been shown over and over again to increase consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole grains – both at home and in school meals programs.
We believe that school-based access to holistic food education levels the playing field for kids growing up in neighborhoods that do not have easy access to grocery stores, and in families with limited resources that cannot be spent on purchasing new foods that might be rejected at home. FoodPrints students go home from school each month with tasty, nutritious recipes that they had fun growing and harvesting ingredients for, have prepared at school with their friends, and have a desire to replicate at home – which makes it safer for their families to experiment with purchasing new ingredients.
This type of experiential food education also supports the city’s broader nutrition goals — a) increased consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole grains in the school meals program, b) increased utilization of nutritious food distributed through DOH-funded school nutrition markets and c) positive food culture in schools.
Shift Mechanism for Distribution of Funding Experiential Food Education to be More Equitable and Sustainable
But based on over 12 years of providing experiential food education for DC students and families, we have observed that grant funding — as is currently done with the many wonderful OSSE programs funded through the Healthy Schools Act — is inherently inequitable and makes it extremely difficult to sustain programming for students. Grants set up schools to compete against one another, which inevitably leads to inequitable distribution and often a drop off in the positive interventions students were experiencing once the funding has been spent.
We believe that allocating funds in a more sustainable way that promotes innovative approaches to attracting matching investments is key to equity and the spirit of this Amendment. We propose that these funds be allocated as one or more contracts to organizations that have a proven track record of leveraging investment from the city to bring external capitals to support learning, and that are committed to working in partnership with our critical school food programs. With this model, we believe it would be possible to grow and sustain experiential food education at schools across the city.
We commend the Council on your leadership on nutrition equity — and we urge you to consider modifications that allow for all students, regardless of socio-economic status and zip code, to have equitable exposure to the experiences we know are needed to support the growth of healthy students and families.