University of California researchers will evaluate a nationally funded farmers’ market promotion project that includes a farm-to-school program designed to bring local farm produce into Davis school cafeterias. The project is one of only 20 funded out of 369 proposals submitted to the USDA’s new Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, which supports the establishment, expansion and promotion of local farmers’ markets.

”I’m very pleased that the Davis Farm to School Connection, a project of the Davis Farmers’ Market Foundation, was funded for $41,800,” said congressman Mike Thompson (D-Woodland). “Farmers’ markets and their offshoots, like farm to school programs, are popular throughout the country and beneficial for both consumers and farmers. It gives consumers access to fresh, locally grown food, and farmers another outlet to sell their products.”

The goal of the project is to increase domestic consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products while providing support to farmers. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service administers the grants program, which is designed to expand direct-to-consumer marketing.

Gail Feenstra, food systems analyst at the UC Davis-based statewide Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP), will coordinate the evaluation of the Davis project, “Improving Farmer Profitability by Forging Community Partnerships in Education.”

Feenstra and SAREP colleague Jeri Ohmart have been evaluating the Davis Farm-to-School Program for the last six years.

”We have seen the percentage of produce coming from local farmers in the Davis elementary school lunch program go from zero to more than 50 percent in six years,” Feenstra said. “This represents an average of more than one-third of all district produce.”

She said they are interested in finding out the extent to which the newly funded project will bring additional farm-fresh produce to school children and college students at the nearby University of California campus, and also help area farmers economically.

The farm to school connection project will launch several new initiatives in the Davis public schools including a “Food Fair” at Davis High and a farmers’ market gift pack to be used for school fundraising (vs. candy or wrapping paper), according to Randii MacNear, manager of the Davis Farmers’ Market.

”These projects will create new marketing opportunities for farmers’ market farmers,” MacNear said. “Additionally, a new farmers’ market will be starting on the UC Davis campus in October. I think these new expansions for the farmers’ market will not only improve sales and increase visibility, but also educate our children and the general public about the importance of supporting local agriculture through our food choices.”

The university farmers’ market will be opened in conjunction with the Campus Community Book Project, featuring UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism professor Michael Pollan, whose new book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is the 2006 Davis campus-community book.