With Lessons from Los Angeles, D.C. Takes a Good Food Policy Coast to Coast

Sarah Reinhardt

Just a week after the Council of the District of Columbia advanced a bill that would transition the city to all renewable energy sources by 2032, it scored a big win on another forward-looking policy issue: putting healthy, local, and sustainable food on the plates of many of its youngest residents.

The D.C. Council voted unanimously today on the passage of the Healthy Students Amendment Act (HSAA), a bill aimed at improving student health and wellness. But don’t let the title fool you—the bill isn’t just about healthy school meals, and it won’t just benefit students. In fact, the positive impacts of this legislation will likely extend to farmers, food businesses, and families throughout the mid-Atlantic.

That’s because it endorses a food purchasing model called the Good Food Purchasing Program. This innovative program helps schools and other institutions source food that not only is healthy, but also supports the local economy and promotes environmental sustainability, fair labor, and animal welfare. (Think of it as farm to school on steroids.) And if the program’s previous successes are any indication, the potential reach of ripple effects in the D.C. region is vast.

Lessons from Los Angeles, birthplace of the Good Food Purchasing Program

With today’s vote, D.C. Public Schools are now the first on the east coast to adopt the Good Food Purchasing Program—but their big win was built on the success of their west coast predecessors.

A quick history of the program: it was first developed by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council in 2012 with input from more than 100 stakeholders and procurement experts. That same year, it was officially adopted by the City of Los Angeles, followed by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). As the second largest school district in the country, LAUSD serves more than 739,000 meals and snacks per day, with an annual food budget of more than $150 million. And while school staff and supporters will be the first to tell you that the purchasing program continues to be a work-in-progress, they were also among the first to prove that it could work.

In our 2017 report Purchasing Powerwe teamed up with the L.A. food policy council, school district, and other local and national partners to demonstrate the impact and reach of the program. Here’s what we found:

Since its adoption in 2012, the Good Food Purchasing Program has helped LAUSD:

  • Direct about $30 million annually to local food purchases—including 45 million servings of bread and rolls made from sustainably and locally grown wheat—with a projected benefit of between $48 and $94 million to the local economy;
  • Create more than 220 well-paying jobs in the food chain and helped more than 300 workers achieve union contracts with higher wages, better health benefits, and stronger workplace protections;
  • Reduce purchases of industrially produced meat by nearly a third, with substantial decreases in the district’s carbon footprint and water usage; and
  • Shift US poultry production through the negotiation of new contracts of up to $50 million for antibiotic-free chicken.

What’s next for D.C.?

Another lesson learned from Los Angeles? You don’t achieve progress without participation. One of the common threads among the dozen school districts, cities, and municipalities currently working to pass or implement the Good Food Purchasing Program is a dedicated group of individuals driving the work forward. And D.C. is no different—a coalition of parents, D.C. Food and Nutrition Services, labor unions, local business leaders and community groups have been working for more than a year to make sure that students have access to healthy, high quality meals, and that local communities can reap the added benefits of “good food.” In the coming months, this group will continue to work to engage D.C. parents, food producers, and community members to propel the policy in the right direction.

To find out more about the Good Food Purchasing program—and to see if there’s an active coalition in your area—visit the Center for Good Purchasing website, and check out our website to view our full report.

Photo: Lunch at DC Public Schools prepared by DC Central Kitchen (DCCK). DCCK prepares nearly 6,300 healthy, scratch-cooked breakfasts, lunches, and suppers each day for low-income children at 10 public and private schools in Washington, DC, working closely with local farmers to supply healthy, seasonal food. Photo credit: DC Central Kitchen/Flickr