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Healthy Lands Feed Students in Need

Jul 7, 2020 | Elkhorn Slough, California, Prepared Communities, Reserves, What We Work For

Sandra Sanchez from Pajaro Middle School distributes fresh organic produce to local families. Original story courtesy the Elkhorn Slough Foundation, friends group to California’s Elkhorn Slough Reserve.

The Elkhorn Slough Foundation’s “Healthy Lands, Helping Hands” program connects organic farmers who cultivate Foundation-protected lands with the Hall District Elementary School to distribute fresh, organic produce to local families in need.

Since mid-April, the program has distributed more than Four tons of produce. It began as shelter-in-place orders threatened food security for local families, many with students who visit the Foundation’s Carneros Creek Outdoor Classroom for docent-led field trips in ecology and environmental science.

“In April, we were approached by an anonymous donor who challenged us to find ways to help local families in need,” says Foundation Executive Director Mark Silberstein. “We thought about the kids from Hall School, no longer able to gather under the spreading oaks of the Outdoor Classroom, and their families, impacted by the sudden loss of jobs and income. We also thought about the organic farmers who cultivate Foundation-protected lands and were impacted by the reduction in demand and income. We reached out for a way to link our local farms and families.”

Pajaro Valley High School students volunteer to distribute food to their peers at Pajaro Valley Middle School.

That link was forged at Hall School in Las Lomas. Through generous contributions from individual donors, family foundations, the Community Foundation of Monterey County, and the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County, the Elkhorn Slough Foundation raised $45,000 to purchase organic produce farmed on conservation lands just across the road from the school. With this support, Pajaro Valley Unified School District coordinators and the school’s food service distribute more than 500 meals a day and serve an estimated 150 families a week. Funding will allow the program to continue through the summer.

The schools, farmers, and families appreciate this circle of health—healthy land and water, healthy farms, healthy food, healthy families!” says Silberstein. “We are discussing expanding the program to additional schools including a school adopted by the Reserve.”

Farmers Javier Zamora and Jesus Calvillo, who deliver fresh-picked produce, are proud to help the school and families in their community—they are also grateful for the support of their farming operations during economically uncertain times.

“Jesus and Javier are great—good farmers and good people,” says Connie Norris, the school’s  food distribution supervisor. She says the families truly appreciate the quality of the fresh produce. “They love the vegetables and are making soups and trading recipes. They tell us they’re making cauliflower ceviche and stuff like that. It’s great.”

Pajaro Valley High School students volunteer to distribute food to their peers at Pajaro Valley Middle School.

“The Elkhorn Slough Foundation is grateful for the opportunity to highlight the link between the health of our lands and the health of the people in our community,” says Silberstein. “Conservation is all about the connections between land and people, and programs like this and our Outdoor Classroom offer hope for the future.”

The Carneros Creek Outdoor Classroom is an open-air learning space on Foundation-conserved land, a short walk from Hall School. For five years, fourth-grade students from Hall District Elementary have gathered there to learn about natural history and conservation science from their teachers and Foundation staff and volunteers. This year, the program was expanded to additional local Title I schools—just before shelter-in-place measures went into effect.

The Foundation has worked hand in hand with the National Estuarine Research Reserve for nearly 40 years. The non-profit assists with administering grant funds coming into the Reserve and is proud of the strong partnership between the Reserve, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and NOAA.  

The Elkhorn Slough Foundation is the only nonprofit land trust dedicated to permanently conserving and restoring the Elkhorn Slough and its surrounding lands. For more than 35 years, the Foundation has promoted community involvement in the slough through award-winning education, volunteer, and research programs. 

Elkhorn Slough, located at the heart of California’s iconic Monterey Bay coast, features the largest tract of tidal salt marsh south of San Francisco Bay. The area’s mix of oak woodlands, maritime chaparral, sand dunes, coastal prairie, freshwater and tidal wetlands support rich biodiversity. The slough’s distinctive ecological communities are among the most rare and threatened habitats in California. In 2018, the Elkhorn Slough was designated a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

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ReservesElkhorn Slough, CaliforniaHealthy Lands Feed Students in Need