By Dr. Janey Thornton, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services
Recently I spent a wonderful day touring California’s Salinas and Pajaro Valleys. My gracious host, Congressman Sam Farr, and I started with the most important meal of the day: breakfast. We visited Rancho Cielo Youth Campus, which has a culinary academy for at-risk youth, where Chef Adrienne Saldivar-Meier—who visited the White House last month as part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Campaign—served us egg and sweet potato scrambler on lettuce, a fruit/vegetable muffin, and milk. Chef Adrienne also gave us an engaging nutrition lesson: for example, instead of wrapping our filling with a tortilla, which may have about 110 calories, we can use a lettuce leaf, a food with close to no calories. We all enjoyed a nutritious breakfast that met the USDA standards for the School Breakfast Program while discussing ways to bring more fresh produce into school nutrition programs.
Our next stop was a harvesting operation in Salinas Valley, where field workers were in the fields gathering lettuce. I found the whole process fascinating. To reduce waste and shipping cost, field workers gathered only the lettuce leaves for cooling and shipping. Lettuce cores and damaged leaves were left on the ground to become compost or animal feed.
A beautiful drive by fields of strawberries and cauliflower lead us to Calabasas Elementary School of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Watsonville, CA. We had lunch with some delightful children who were participating in the USDA Summer Food Service Program. I talked with them about Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign, and the importance of exercising and eating healthy foods. After lunch, I met with school district staff at the central kitchen. The dedicated staff talked about both the challenges and rewards of providing nutritious food to all children, whether they qualify for free, reduced, or paid lunch.
Our last stop of the day was at the Watsonville City Hall, where over 100 interested members of the community assembled to talk about child nutrition issues. We heard discussions about access, universal school meals, and nutrition education. I let them know that the Obama administration is committed to ensuring all kids have access to nutritious food. We can’t let challenges stand in the way of making important changes that can really make a difference.