America's Tomorrow: Equity Is the Superior Growth Model< Back to All Newsletters
January 7, 2016
Tracking the Ripple Effects of LA’s Good Food Purchasing Program
By Alexis Stephens
In 2012, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) — the largest school district in the nation — shifted its food purchasing processes to promote equitable food systems, healthy eating, and the local economy. This shift was made possible by The Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP), an effort developed by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council to provide city institutions with purchasing guidelines and strategic support centered on the procurement of local, sustainably, and humanely produced foods. The program has improved the labor and environmental practices of LA’s local food producers, while gaining the attention of school districts and government agencies in LA and beyond.
With LAUSD’s expenditures of nearly $125 million, the Good Food Purchasing Program ensures that 650,000 K-12 students have access to healthy food on a consistent basis. It has also had a domino effect on regional producers, processors, and distributors. In the first two years, the percentage of locally purchased fruit and vegetables shot up from 9 percent to 75 percent. When the district instituted a “Meatless Mondays” policy to comply with the new nutritional and environmental standards, they decreased their annual meat spending by 15 percent, saving more than 19 million gallons of water.
Similar to LEED certification, institutions that participate in the GFPP are scored according to values-driven standards in five impact areas: local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare, and nutrition. As detailed in a new PolicyLink case study, the program incentivizes vendors to change the way they do business in order to earn or retain contracts with the city.
Since the adoption of the policy, LAUSD’s bread and produce distributor, Gold Star Foods, has risen to the occasion, strengthening its values-based practices to meet the GFPP’s goals and purchasing guidelines. So far, Gold Star Foods has added 65 full-time, living-wage jobs as a result of their new way of sourcing products. Additionally, after searching for local mid-sized wheat farms willing or able to meet GFPP standards, it reached out to Shepherd’s Grain in Portland, Oregon, resulting in the expansion of the Shepherd’s Grain network of over 40 independent local wheat farms from the Northwest into California. Gold Star now purchases 160,000 annual bushels of wheat from the sustainable agriculture company.
To achieve widespread change throughout the food system beyond Los Angeles, the Good Food Purchasing Program gave rise to a stand-alone organization: the Center for Good Food Purchasing. Alexa Delwiche, the Center’s executive director, said that over the past couple of years a lot of effort has been put into building communications systems between institutions and vendors and facilitating tracking and data collection, so that the full force of the program is measured and sustained. “When you develop a policy that’s multifaceted and includes additional values like labor practices and environmental sustainability, you have to get a certain level of detail, so that you are able to actually build transparency into the system,” she said. “That transparency doesn’t really exist in the food supply chain for a number of reasons, so it has been a huge learning [process] for us.”
The program — and its core premise that public institutions can impact the local economy and healthy food systems through their purchasing power — is gaining the attention of other schools and universities in the state. This year, the Oakland Unified School District is considering adoption of a Good Food Purchasing Program informed by LA’s. The California State University System, comprising 23 campuses, has pledged to shift at least 20 percent of their food budgets toward local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane food sources.
The principles of good food purchasing are spreading. The Equitable Food Initiative, launched in 2013, is a cohort of food retailers, growers, and farm worker organizations that has developed a compliance standard for farms based on working conditions, pesticide management, and safety. The New York Times has reported that 12 growers are a part of the group, with six of those certified so far, covering 2,000 workers. The Initiative’s expansion would help to protect some of California’s most vulnerable workers: one-third of America’s farm workers are in California and 67 percent of those (over 500,000 people) are unauthorized immigrants.
Doug Bloch, political director with Teamsters Joint Council 7, represents workers in Northern California, the Central Valley, and Nevada who pick, process, package, and distribute food and beverages in California. The Teamsters represent 25,000, mostly immigrant workers in the state who process food, including the workers of Taylor Farms in Salinas, a vegetable supplier to Oakland Unified School District. “The workers make a living wage and get benefits, and they get treated with respect,” said Bloch. Taylor Farms is the largest supplier of fresh-cut vegetables in North America, though not all of its farms are unionized.
Commenting on the good food purchasing model and its impact on labor, Bloch said that one of the regional challenges for both workers and purchasing institutions is the constant consolidation along the food chain, such as a proposed acquisition of U.S. Foods by Sysco that was defeated by the Federal Trade Commission this past summer. “Where I think it helps is that the Good Food Purchasing Program can really encourage the district to buy local, healthy, and organic,” says Bloch. “Depending on how the district applies the GFPP, it could encourage purchasing from a small, Oakland-based company that’s producing some sort of specialty item, as opposed to frozen or canned food that comes from 500 miles away.”
With any of these models and initiatives, it is important to appreciate the level of community organizing that goes along with developing and getting policies adopted, Delwiche said. Partners participate in monitoring and evaluation of the program in order to ensure successful implementation. Over 100 stakeholders and procurement experts were involved in the planning and execution of the GFPP. “I think the really powerful piece to this is that once a public institution has adopted a policy, that policy really becomes one [that belongs to] both the institution and the community,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for the community to continue engaging public officials and the public institution and hold them accountable to the values they’ve adopted.”
Now that Los Angeles has additional systems in place to track the progress of vendors and to set actionable goals and benchmarks, she added, the LA Food Policy Council and its partners are beginning to influence more cities like Oakland, so that, “as the cities adopt their own policies, the learning curve will be more diminished, and we can support institutions in a more streamlined way.”
Stewart Kwoh on Expanding Equity in Public Universities
America’s Tomorrow presents Equity Speaks, an interview series with leaders from activism, academia, and policy aiming to inspire advocates for all-in cities and an equitable, thriving U.S. economy.
By Fran Smith
Public colleges and universities across the country have been struggling for years to open up access for low-income youth and youth of color, even as ever-higher levels of education and skills are needed in the job market. The challenges have grown as states have cut funding for higher education. Now, the Supreme Court is considering a challenge to race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas, a ruling that could further restrict educational opportunities across the nation.
California, the first state to ban affirmative action in 1996 (specifically in public education, employment, and contracting), offers a glimpse of what such restrictions might mean for America’s future. Latino, Black, and Native American students made up 54 percent of the state’s high school graduates in 2012, but only 27 percent of freshman in the University of California system. Although Asian Americans as a whole attend college and graduate at high rates, these statistics mask the enrollment disparities facing distinct groups such as Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Cambodian, and Hmong. Meanwhile, by 2030, 38 percent of jobs in California will require a bachelor’s degree or higher, and there will be 1.1 million fewer college graduates statewide than the economy demands.
Working to close these gaps, a multiracial, multigenerational coalition in California led by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles is demanding greater investment in state universities, increased access to admissions and financial aid, and a bigger, better, more equitable K-12 pipeline that helps all youth achieve their full potential. Stewart Kwoh, the organization’s founding president and executive director, building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, spoke with America’s Tomorrow.
You’ve reframed the conversation about college admissions. For years, people have been trying to figure out how to fairly apportion slots. You’re saying, let’s create more openings for everyone. Why this approach?
We do support affirmative action but in California, we haven't had it for 20 years, and most likely, it won’t change in the near future. We could wait for the timing to be right but we'll lose another generation of students so let's fight for policies that help every group in need. If the game is just to apportion the seats that exist, then most likely we'll all lose. There will just be an increasing number of young people who want the seats, and there will be fewer seats for everyone so then we're just fighting over the shrinking pie. Shouldn't we be fighting for expanding the pie for everyone, especially the underserved students?
How are you doing that?
Equity requires investment. When there's disinvestment, there’s probably less equity, and that’s absolutely true in the context of higher education in California. Over the past couple or so decades the state has built 22 prisons and only one University of California campus. The money flow has gone down, so there are fewer students in some of the universities, they're paying much higher tuition, and schools are bringing in foreign students and out-of-state students who pay triple the in-state tuition. It edges out California youth. Our view is that there has to be a whole new investment in higher education and new investment in the pre-K-12 pipeline to create equitable opportunity so young people are prepared to go to college and to graduate. We have to be working at both levels.
If you succeed in increasing investment in public universities, how do you ensure that access is equitable?
We're trying to expand the number of Cal State and UC enrollment openings for students from California. We're also trying to ensure that among those who get these open seats, we have a good share of racially and ethnically diverse students from low-income schools. A 2012 ballot initiative, Proposition 30, provided a big infusion of money into California schools, including greater funding to serve high-need students who are low income, English learners, or foster care youth. We're advocating using that same formula to bring in high-need students who are disproportionately students of color, as well as underserved White students, into the UC and Cal State systems. We’re also pushing for regional college preparation programs, better retention programs, and financial aid. It's a universal approach to increase higher educational opportunities for all, which we are calling our “Education for All Campaign.” It’s a specific approach to make sure that more racially and ethnically diverse students get into UC and Cal State as we open up more seats. And it's a practical approach because we want students to actually finish college.
How are you making the case for more investment?
We’re not just saying, “Oh, let’s be fair.” Over a million jobs in the California workforce will not be filled by California youth because they don't have a college education. Think about that — over a million California youth won't get a college education in the next 15 years who should have or could have. If we don’t build a strong movement of higher education for all and if we don’t make big policy changes, it will have dire consequences that will hurt us all.
The common wisdom says that Asian American students have benefitted from the ban on affirmative action — their representation on University of California campuses has increased markedly in the past 20 years. How do you address the idea of the model minority?
First of all, we stand in solidarity with underserved students of color who aren't able to get into the colleges or can't go from the community colleges to the four-year colleges. We absolutely think that we all benefit by having a greater pipeline and completion rate for students of color. The second point is that this model minority monolith, or stereotype, really hurts our community because it covers up and makes invisible the true needs of Asian and Pacific Islander groups.
What does your research show about those needs?
We recently released a study that was led by the Campaign for College Opportunity on the state of higher education for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and basically the main conclusion is that there's tremendous diversity in needs and success. For example, Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians have far lower college completion rates than certain Asian American groups — comparable to the rates for Blacks and Latinos. Yes, some groups of Asian Americans have done well and have not done well — the differences are very stark. But we also found almost every group in the Asian American community has very high financial needs. Even the more successful groups have challenges — they have college access but they're graduating with a whole lot of debt. It’s not a good picture in terms of true access for anybody.
Describe your K-12 agenda and why it’s important to your advocacy on higher education.
There have to be major changes in the K-12 system so more students are prepared to go into community college or four-year college. A very significant percentage of high school students going to community college now need remedial math and English classes. That's very discouraging for students, and it’s problematic for the future of California. We need more concerted attention by all community groups to make sure all students, especially underrepresented students of color, enter school ready to learn, receive support to succeed and discover their passions, and graduate high school ready to go to college — and finish. At the end of the day we must have a much bigger pipeline of students getting college degrees with needed skills that will strengthen the state. They will be paying greater taxes; they will be more productive residents. It’s a win for everyone.
Learn more and get involved by contacting: Geralyn Yparraguirre, Education Policy Advocate at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (firstname.lastname@example.org) or 213-977-7500 x267.