School district's commitment to more local sourcing of the food it serves has boosted business and employment at producers' plants.
November 24, 2013
In a groundbreaking effort, the nation's second-largest school district is using its enormous purchasing clout to support local farmers and businesses. In just two years, the district has boosted its local purchases of fruit and vegetables from 9% of its $20-million annual produce budget to 75% today. L.A. Unified now buys locally for at least 50% of its overall $125-million food budget, about double the proportion of two years ago, according to David Binkle, the district's food services director.
L.A. Unified has bailed out struggling orange growers in Riverside County, buying their produce over Florida citrus. Sustainably grown whole wheat comes from Fresno farmers rather than the Midwest. Beef from Chino, distributed by an Inglewood company, largely has replaced a Cincinnati producer.
"It's fresher food from farmers we know," Binkle said.
The preference for products that originate within about 200 miles of Los Angeles was formalized last year by the Board of Education, which also directed the district to purchase 5% of its produce from small-to-medium-sized farmers. The district became Los Angeles' second institution — city government being the first — to pledge to support local purchasing, workers' rights, animal welfare, environmental sustainability and nutrition in a "good food" program developed by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council.