COACHELLA — Dates. They’re what’s for lunch — or will be soon — in free student lunches provided to K-12 students during the coronavirus closures.

Several Riverside County school districts will soon begin providing locally-grown dates  as part of a Farms to Schools pilot program. The program will allow local date farmers to sell their products directly to school districts for student meal programs. The arrangement allows children to enjoy healthier lunches while also benefitting local farmers struggling to sell their crops due to a drop in demand during the coronavirus stay-at-home orders.

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia helped facilitate connections to all three local school districts (Desert Sands Unified School District, Palm Springs Unified School District, and Coachella Valley Unified School District) and worked with the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture to review emergency measures to launch the program as quickly as possible.

Local Dates to be Offered in Student Meals

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia

“The work of our farmers and farmworkers is important to us now more than ever. I am extremely excited about the opportunities the Farms to Schools pilot program will create to support our farmers, save produce from going to waste, and help our children access fresher, healthier foods,” Garcia told Uken Report. “This collaborative community effort will ensure that locally grown food makes its way to the tables of our families through our schools with the hope that this initiative grows to include partnerships with other farmers.”

If the pilot program is successful, it could expand to include other fruits and vegetables suitable for school meals. The “Farms to Schools” program kicks off Wednesday, April 29 at 8 a.m. with the first local deliveries to Desert Sands Unified School District and Palm Springs Unified School District.

Desert Sands Unified School District plans to start distributing the dates and recipes to students on May 4.

“Agriculture plays a significant role in our economy and the loss of business affects thousands of people working the fields, packing and shipping produce, and others in related industries,” Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez said in a prepared statement. “When our local date farmers approached the city for help, connecting them with local schools seemed like the perfect win-win solution.”

Hernandez and the city worked with Desert Sands Unified School District to get the program up and running. California Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia reviewed emergency measures to make sure the program could be started as quickly as possible. Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. and Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez also offered assistance.

“Sourcing locally results in significant savings and helps to support families here in the Coachella Valley,” said Daniel Cappello, Desert Sands Unified School District director of nutrition services. “Serving local produce also provides an educational component. Our students will be eating dates grown, harvested, and packaged locally, perhaps even by their own family members.”

Palm Springs Unified School District will also purchase dates from local farms and Coachella Valley Unified School District expects to join them soon. Other Riverside County school districts are in discussions to start purchasing fruits and vegetables directly from Coachella Valley farms.

“With restaurants limiting service and people making fewer trips to the grocery store due to
coronavirus, many farms have an abundance of crops at the moment,” Mark Tadros of Aziz
Farms in Thermal said in a prepared statement. “We’re thankful and excited to start working with schools to give kids fresh and healthy meals.”

The partnership provides a model that can easily expand beyond the Coachella Valley to be
duplicated across California and in other states.

“Anytime someone can introduce young people to tasty, nutritious, and locally-grown dates is a
positive thing,” said California Date Commission Chairman Albert Keck. “The initiative taken by
an entrepreneur like Mr. Tadros to reach out and find win-win solutions in the community
marketplace that not only moves product but also provides a healthy alternative for students in
a way meal providers can efficiently manage is wonderful.”

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Image Sources

  • Eduardo Garcia: Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia
  • Date palm: Pixaby