Education

L.A. School District's Local Food Push Helps Area Economy

November 25, 2013
 

The savory smell of nutmeg and cinnamon wafts through the Azusa bakery, where dozens of workers in blue gloves and hairnets cook up L.A. Unified's newest star product. The "Glorious Morning" muffin is chewy and moist, packed with whole wheat, raisins and carrots — along with flaxseed for heart health and brain development.

The muffin is good for children but also for the bakery's business. The Los Angeles Unified School District's order with Buena Vista Food Products Inc. to bake 4 million servings of muffins, coffeecake and corn bread every month has doubled the firm's business and created 100 jobs this year. To keep up with the district's orders, the bakery has invested $1 million in four new ovens and other equipment.

"We haven't sold this much in the history of our company," said Buena Vista President Laura Trujillo. "Working with L.A. [schools] has completely changed the way we purchase and produce."

In a groundbreaking effort, the nation's second-largest school district is using its enormous purchasing clout to support local farmers and businesses. In just two years, the district has boosted its local purchases of fruit and vegetables from 9% of its $20-million annual produce budget to 75% today. L.A. Unified now buys locally for at least 50% of its overall $125-million food budget, about double the proportion of two years ago, according to David Binkle, the district's food services director.

L.A. Unified has bailed out struggling orange growers in Riverside County, buying their produce over Florida citrus. Sustainably grown whole wheat comes from Fresno farmers rather than the Midwest. Beef from Chino, distributed by an Inglewood company, largely has replaced a Cincinnati producer.

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