Good Food Purchasing Program in Action: A Tour of Oakland Unified School District’s Kitchens

by Tiffani Patton

What’s for lunch? If it’s Thursday and you’re a part of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), it’s a locally-sourced, #CaliforniaThursdays meal.

Focused on dishing out healthier meals, decreasing their carbon footprint, and increasing access to good food for all students, OUSD Nutrition Services is changing school meals for the better. Nutrition Services Director Jennifer LeBarre’s thoughtful and innovative leadership has made OUSD a rising star of the Good Food Purchasing Program–a program that helps institutions source food that supports five values: nutrition, local economies, animal welfare, valued workforce, and environmental sustainability.

Recently, Jennifer led Oakland Food Policy Council members on a tour of kitchens. We started with a brief history of the national school lunch program and a tour of Prescott Elementary’s kitchenwhere a small but mighty crew prepare a whopping 20,000 meals a day for distribution to other schools in the district. Next stop was the site of The Centera central kitchen, farm, and educational center. The Center, set to open in 2020, will be the site of innovative programming which will provide training and education to everyone from elementary-aged children to adults with special needs. This site will even have its own fruit & vegetable and meat processing rooms, which will decrease reliance on frozen, pre-packaged and processed items.

Our last stop was Madison Academy in East Oakland where the smell of chocolate chip cookies greeted us all the way out in the parking lot. I got to enjoy my first school lunch in many years (no need to get specific here), with a #CaliforniaThursday lunch: mixed vegetables, the sweetest apple I’ve had in a while, and no-antibiotics-ever BBQ chicken. It definitely surpassed my expectations.  

Providing over 40,000 healthy meals every day is a challenge when you have to balance budgetary constraints, differences in taste and perception, outdated infrastructure, and limited capacity. But OUSD, in partnership with the Oakland Food Policy Council and the Good Food Purchasing Program, is pushing boundaries, making changes, and engaging the community. Community engagement has been particularly strong thanks to the Oakland Food Policy Council, which has been leading the charge for good food for all in Oakland, from partnering with the school district for better school food, to organizing the community to fight back against Big Soda.

We celebrate the work of the Oakland Food Policy Council, food policy councils all over the world, and #goodfoodchampions like Jennifer LeBarre and the folks at OUSD and the Good Food Purchasing Program who have been pushing the conversation forward.