By Laura Hansen Marks
My name is Laura Hansen Marks. I am a resident of Ward 6 and have lived in the District for fourteen years. I am a parent of two young children, one toddler and one pre-Kindergarten student at School-Within-A-School at Peabody Elementary School on Capitol Hill. I am co-coordinator of the DC Farm to School Network’s Parents Committee as well as an active parent volunteer in Peabody’s school gardens.
I am delighted the Council is discussing this very important topic and offer my heartfelt thanks to Councilmember Cheh for her hard work and leadership on this issue. The Healthy Schools Act is an extraordinary opportunity for the District of Columbia to affirm its commitment to the health and wellbeing of its young people.
I am now in my second year as a DCPS parent and I am extremely supportive of these efforts to improve the quality of the food served in our schools, increase physical education requirements, and “green” our schools both inside and out. In a city with many thousands of children facing a future of obesity-related illness and premature death from unhealthy eating habits, inadequate exercise and a polluted environment, these changes are not window-dressing or peripheral. They are essential to our children’s health and are fundamental to the well being of an entire generation of Washingtonians.
Our schools and our children are in desperate need of these changes and I urge you to support this legislation. In a city where the vast majority of children qualify for free and reduced school meals, schools provide to many of these children their only hot meals each day. Instead of continuing to serve them cheap, highly refined, highly processed sugar-, fat-, salt-, and additive-laden foods trucked in from all over the country, I believe there is all the more burden on our schools to lead the way in teaching healthy eating. Fresh, local ingredients prepared with care into nutritious, appetizing meals should be every child’s right, not just those who can afford not to eat school food.
SUPPORT FOR FARM TO SCHOOL:
I believe the Farm to School Program contained in this Bill is of critical importance to making our schools healthier places. I strongly support the local food preference requiring schools to buy local, unprocessed foods when they are within ten percent of the conventional food costs. The additional five-cent per dollar reimbursement for these purchases is crucial to the success of this program, as is the construction of a centralized kitchen for coordinating purchase, storage, transport and processing of these foods.
I also strongly support dramatically increased transparency by school food service providers. Parents and kids alike deserve to know what ingredients are in which meals, where those foods come from, and clear, reliable disclosure of any common food allergens. This is literally life-saving information for children with severe food allergies.
SUPPORT FOR SCHOOL GARDENS AND GREEN SCHOOLS:
As an active parent volunteer in my son’s school garden, I have seen first-hand the multitude of benefits of a vibrant, inviting schoolyard garden. From teaching basic science and nutrition concepts, to providing an opportunity for exercise and a connection to the natural world, school gardens can be an invaluable means of fostering improved health. School gardens also strengthen the school community through heightened parental involvement, connect schools to their neighborhood communities through volunteer opportunities, and heighten children’s sense of ownership of the school grounds and their attachment to the garden site. School gardens also are an important venue for teaching basic ecology, conservation, and environmental stewardship. Additionally, many schoolyard gardens incorporate on-site stormwater management techniques such as rain barrels/cisterns, rain gardens and other bioretention features that offer additional lessons in understanding the hydrologic cycle, our local watersheds and how our actions impact the natural world around us.
I again reiterate my strong support for the Healthy Schools Act. I extend my thanks to the Council for their consideration of this crucial issue and I know I join a great many DCPS parents in demanding healthier school food for our children, heightened transparency with regard to ingredients and sources, greener schools, increased physical education requirements, and a system-wide commitment to the importance of school gardens.
I firmly believe that access to healthy, nutritious, appetizing food at school should not be limited to those few children whose families can afford to pack their own. I believe it is a social justice issue of utmost importance to ensure that all children in DCPS are better for their time there, not drowned in sugar, fat, salt and preservatives and sent off to a future of chronic disease and premature death. They deserve better from us, and Councilmembers, I call on you to support, and fund, this Act. In the words of President Harry Truman when signing the National School Lunch Act into law in 1946, “No nation is healthier than its children.” Let your legacy be this dramatic step forward for the health of our schools, our children, and our environment. Thank you for your time and attention to this topic.
5 months ago