New cooking classes, student gardens at Sacramento elementary school aim to address food insecurity

Some of the school supplies in the Floyd Farms classroom look a little different than notebooks, pencils and paper. Instead, students at the new cooking school, located at Leataata Floyd Elementary just south of Broadway and Front Street, work with produce, spices, kitchen supplies and aprons.

Floyd Farms, run by the Food Literacy Center, will host cooking classes and house student gardens when it opens next spring. The center aims to prevent diet-related diseases through teaching food-insecure children to cook and develop healthy eating habits.

The Sacramento City Unified School District gave the center’s founder, Amber Stott, the metaphorical keys to the building at a ceremony on Wednesday, capping a 10-year effort to erect the building. 

“It’s not enough to reach one child at a time — we also need to change the systems that serve these children,” Stott said. “This cooking school represents a critical change for the Sac City Unified School District and a deep commitment to improving student health.”

Floyd Farms is a partnership with the District, City of Sacramento and Food Literacy Center, among others.

Chinua Rhodes, a SCUSD board member, said at the ceremony that the school’s opening was full-circle for him. He remembers doing after school programs about hip-hop writing with students.

“Knowing that this community, our students here, our families here right off McClatchy are going to have access … something like this is amazing,” he said. “We often don’t think of food and facilities as an equity issue, an equity and access issue. But it very much is.”

A sample workstation in the Floyd Farms classroom.Janelle Salanga / CapRadio

Many students at Leataata Floyd live in the nearby Alder Grove and Marina Vista public housing projects. This year, 95% of students at the predominantly-Black school qualified for free or reduced-price lunches — the third-most in the district. 

Outside of Leataata Floyd, the Food Literacy Center also runs after-school programs for other predominantly low-income schools in SCUSD. During the pandemic, the center partnered with SCUSD Nutrition Services to prepare take-home recipe kits to continue serving students.

“We served 11,000 recipes during the crisis out of two small refrigerators in a portable, so imagine what we will be able to accomplish with this new facility,” Stott said. 

Though the cooking school is located at Leataata Floyd, she said the Food Literacy Center plans to also open up the space to community members and students from other SCUSD schools. 

“We will offer more hands-on cooking classes, more take-home recipe kits, gardening classes, family dinner nights and so much more,” she said. “Our success will be measured by whether this space improves the health of our kids.”

Along with the student gardens, Floyd Farms will house a city-run community garden, addressing an interest expressed by the majority of low-income Sacramento-region residents who responded to a recent Valley Vision and CapRadio survey. 

Over three-quarters of Black respondents said community gardens were at least moderately important to their neighborhoods — the highest amount across respondents of all races. Yet fewer than half of all respondents have a garden or access to one. 

“Food is love, and love is growth, and growth is power,” said SCUSD board member Lavinia Grace Phillips. “That’s something that we can give to our children and their parents and our district, and that is something that’s very important to me.”

The city-run community garden will be one of 17 currently run by Sacramento.

Mai Err Chang grew up in South Sacramento and has been a program and volunteer coordinator for Food Literacy Center since 2017. She said that while the cooking school has been 10 years in the making, it still feels “really new” to Sacramento. 

“One thing that, a lot of the staff, we always talk about is that we didn’t have this kind of program growing up,” she said. “Even living in Sacramento, I’ve never had this kind of program. We didn’t see this push for nutrition education much in elementary or any schools at all.”

SCUSD students are more food insecure than students across Sacramento County at large, with nearly 70% of the district qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches this year compared to 57% of students in the county.

Along with Floyd Farms, the district is trying to bring fresh, locally-grown food to children through the Central Kitchen, which, with full staffing, would be able to provide breakfast and lunch daily at the district’s middle and high schools. The kitchen is expected to open this winter.

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