Saturday, May 8, 2010

Your Support Still Needed for "Healthy Schools"

By Andrea Northup

As the Coordinator of the D.C. Farm to School Network, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Councilmember Mary Cheh’s office on a landmark piece of legislation - the Healthy Schools Act. The Act passed through the final Council vote on Tuesday May 4th. It now goes on to the Mayor’s desk for his approval, then to a 30-day consideration period in the U.S. Congress. Then the bill becomes a law, funding is secured, and its provisions are implemented.

I had the good fortune to run into the Mayor a few weeks ago as he campaigned in my neighborhood. When I asked Mayor Fenty if he would pass the Healthy Schools Act, he claimed enthusiastically that as a champion for the District’s schoolchildren he “couldn’t wait to sign the Healthy Schools Act.” Let’s hope he keeps his word and moves the legislation forward!

The next step is to be sure that this bill is funded. The Council is holding a Healthy Schools Act Revenue Hearing on May 12th - watch for the details on We need to be at the Wilson Building in full force testifying about the importance of fully funding this bill. On May 26th, the Budget Support Act will be finalized. The BSA houses the Council’s amendments to the Mayor’s proposed budget, including revenues for legislation like the Healthy Schools Act.

But let’s go back to the long, involved process that led to this piece of legislation. As an advocate for more healthy, local and sustainable food in D.C. schools, my role was to reach out to the real experts here in the District who know school food. I talked with food service providers, producers and distributors, parents, teachers, kids, and other stakeholders along the chain from seed to cafeteria tray. I reached out to school food policy experts in other states, and on the national scale. I asked them all the same question - how can state-level policy help us get more healthy, local, sustainable foods into Washington, DC schools?

I had conversations, emails, meetings, and conference calls. And I wasn’t the only one - advocates and activists across the District gathered ideas, comments and concerns from their constituent bases. Councilmember Cheh’s staff pulled these ideas together in an inclusive, transparent and quite commendable way.

This is an important piece of legislation for many reasons. Like I said, creating the bill was transparent, open and “kosher.” Second, the bill acknowledges that child hunger, obesity and environmental degradation are complex issues, and it tackles those issues from a number of different angles. And third, Councilmember Cheh is dedicated to funding this bill. Whether through a “soda tax,” or other means, she assures us that her office will not rest until the bill is fully funded and implemented.

And we as advocates won’t rest until the issues of child hunger, obesity, and environmental degradation are at bay. We have a long road ahead, but this bill is one small step in a long, slow journey.

Andrea Northup is coordinator of the D.C. Farm to School Network.

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