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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Scaling a “Bite-Sized Implementation Strategy”: Promoting Educational Equity and Social Justice through a Farm to School Food Program

  • Author(s): Serrano, Christyna
  • et al.
The data associated with this publication are available upon request.

While the farm to school movement has been growing since the 1990s, it was officially incorporated into federal child nutrition programs through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010. In 2013, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) received a $100K farm to school grant via the HHFKA to pilot “California Thursdays” (CT). CT was developed through a partnership between the Center for Ecoliteracy (CEL) and OUSD to increase students’ access to local, fresh, and healthy school meals procured entirely from California. As of January 2017, through the efforts of and leadership provided by CEL, CT has been implemented across 84 districts in California, which together serve over one-third of the one billion school meals distributed in the state each year. CT is an excellent demonstration of the agency of local level actors to respond with innovative action to implement federal policy. The network of CT schools is using farm to school food programs to address a primary goal of the HHFKA: the amelioration of childhood hunger and obesity. Informed by the theory of policy-implementation as a “co-constructed” process, and drawing on data from both a case study of the implementation of CEL’s Rethinking School Lunch planning framework in OUSD and a three-year (2013-2016) ethnographic study of OUSD’s implementation of the HHFKA, this paper examines the factors and enabling conditions that allowed CT to go to scale across 84 districts in California. CT went to scale for three specific reasons: the use of (1) a scaffolding approach to the CT initiative that was implemented through a “collective impact model,” (2) implementation practices that were scalable across different district contexts (urban, rural, large, small), and (3) CEL’s cultivation of positive discourse around the narrative of school lunch. The creation and scaling of CT reflect the ways that local level actors use their agency to develop innovative solutions for promoting educational equity and social justice across various contexts – despite numerous constraints. While CT cannot address the structural inequities that produce childhood hunger and obesity in the first place, it has reshaped the school food landscape in California.

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