2023 Leadership and Innovation Awards

The California Food for California Kids® Leadership and Innovation Awards honor leaders across the state for their creativity and initiative in school nutrition and farm to school programs.

Awardees were honored at the 2023 California Farm to School Conference with California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom.


California Food for California Kids® 2023 Leadership Award

Eric Span, Director of Nutrition Services

Eric Span is a leading visionary in school nutrition policy and farm to school programs. He is the Director of Nutrition Services for Sweetwater Union High School District, the Public Policy and Legislative Committee Chair for the California School Nutrition Association, and a Board Member of the Chef Ann Foundation. Under his leadership, Sweetwater has created an urban farm that grows produce (and will soon produce fresh eggs!) for its school meal program. Eric has also helped to foster an innovative student-led food rescue and composting program for the district. He is a trained chef and has worked in school nutrition for 18 years. Eric’s passion and love for food power his belief that all students have the right to high-quality and nutritious foods. His goals include on-campus beekeeping, honey harvesting, and developing career training programs for students focused on farming and gardening.

Creative Food Education Award
Pilar Gray, Director of Nutrition Services

Pilar Gray is an energizing force in food education programs throughout Fort Bragg Unified School District, where she has been the nutrition services director for nearly 20 years. Pilar supports the district’s garden-enhanced nutrition education programs and serves on the wellness policy committee for the district. In partnership with North Coast Opportunities, Pilar led the creation of 27 Harvest of the Month videos. Featuring fruits and vegetables from farms and farmers in the region, the videos are screened in classrooms for students and are paired with a taste test of the featured items. She has guided the successful expansion of Fort Bragg’s school gardens to get a garden into every school, including two that produce vegetables for their farm-to-cafeteria program with crops such as snap peas, tomatoes, radishes, and fresh herbs. She and her nutrition services team, a close-knit community of dedicated professionals, envision programs that creatively guide students in growing food on campus for delicious, freshly-prepared, scratch-cooked school meals.

Modeling School Food Systems Change Award
Amanda Harvey, SNS, Director of Nutrition Services

Amanda Harvey is a solutions-oriented leader, improving school meals and modeling systems change at Fresno Unified School District, California’s third-largest school district. Inspired by student and family feedback, Amanda stepped into the role as Director of Nutrition Services in 2020 to increase the focus on locally-sourced ingredients and freshly-prepared meals. She has adapted menus to provide more choices for students and to serve more of the food that students love. Working with Amanda and her team, the district developed a new position for a farm to school coordinator and is bringing on nine executive chefs to increase the quality of school meals, support nutrition education, and expand farm to school offerings. Amanda has worked in school nutrition since 2015 and envisions Fresno Unified’s program as a future model for nutrition, quality, and variety in school meals.

Visionary Food Hub Partnership Award
Vince Caguin, MBA, Executive Director of Nutrition Services and Warehousing

Vince Caguin is revolutionizing school food procurement. When he read that lettuce from neighboring Fiery Ginger Farm had gone to waste during the pandemic, he started thinking creatively about how to support local Sacramento-area farmers. As Executive Director of Nutrition Services and Warehousing at Natomas Unified School District, he formed a visionary partnership with Fiery Ginger Farm’s new Spork Food Hub, becoming the first school district in the state of California to name a local food hub as its primary produce provider. This unique model provides students with fresh produce like butternut squash, salanova lettuce, cucumber, and tomatoes sourced from nearby farms. Vince’s partnership has supported Spork Food Hub to grow its operations to source from over 30 local farmers and provide food to over 20 school districts. Vince has over 11 years of experience in school nutrition, is the former Academic Department Chair at Le Cordon Bleu Los Angeles, and currently works with the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation and the Institute of Child Nutrition. He envisions a future where students are well-nourished, staff have opportunities for professional growth, and local farmers are honored and supported.

Outstanding New Farm to School Program Award
Lauren Thomas, RDN, SNS, Food and Nutrition Services Director

Lauren Thomas is successfully leading an outstanding new farm to school program at San Miguel Joint Union School District. A newcomer who started her school nutrition career in 2020, Lauren has already helped the district forge partnerships with 12 local farms and businesses and leads a Wheat2School grant program. Lauren discovered her passion for school nutrition during her Registered Dietitian Nutritionist internship with Erin Primer at San Luis Coastal Unified School District and credits Erin as her mentor. Now, as Food and Nutrition Services Director, Lauren has strengthened regional partnerships and shares ideas and best practices with neighboring school districts. She believes that all children deserve delicious, nutritious food at school, and envisions a school environment where fresh, locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals and nutrition education are deeply rooted in the climate and culture of the school district.

Sustainable Student-Centered Meals Award
Josh Goddard, Director of Nutrition Services

Josh Goddard believes school communities are enriched when school meals reflect students’ cultures and home lives. As the Director of Nutrition Services for Santa Ana Unified School District, Josh and his team listen to students to learn about the foods they eat at home and how their families prepare them. They use this research to develop student-centered meals such as lentil picadillo, chicken tinga, horchata overnight oats, and scratch-made vegan empanadas. Students’ preferences for plant-forward options are supported by Santa Ana Unified’s farm to school program. Farm to School Coordinator Moises Plascencia has built relationships with local farms to grow produce for students to enjoy. Josh started his food service career at age 15. He envisions a world where school cafeterias set a new standard for high-quality, sustainably-grown food, and where school kitchens attract chefs from local culinary schools.

Integrated District Farm Partnership Award
Karen Luna, Director of Nutrition Services
David Tuttle, Farm Consultant

In the heart of Silicon Valley, Karen Luna and David Tuttle share a sustainable food systems success story with their integrated district and farm partnership, serving fresh produce from the Santa Clara Unified School District Organic Farm in school meals since 2017. With over 16 years of experience in school food, Karen has guided her team to use this hyper-local produce to prepare fresh, healthy meals for students’ lunch trays and salad bars. This commitment to sustainability has fostered a transformed community within the district, helping students understand how food grows and what it needs to thrive and ensuring that students receive the freshest, healthiest meals possible. Under David’s farm leadership, 6,000 pounds of produce are harvested each month, offering seasonal fruits and vegetables to K–12 students year-round. The organic farm, adjacent to one of the district’s middle school campuses, boasts 11 acres that consist of row crops, orchards, herbs, native plants, and free-range chickens. The farm also serves as an outdoor classroom and space for community events. David has over 20 years of experience in farming and hopes that the Santa Clara Unified School District Farm can serve as a model for other school districts in California and across the nation.

Climate-Smart School Meals Award
Kat Soltanmorad, RDN, Director of Food and Nutrition Services

Kat Soltanmorad is committed to climate-smart school meals that support the health of students and the planet. When she joined Tahoe Truckee Unified School District as Director of Food and Nutrition Services, her mission was to transform the meal program, moving from pre-packaged heat-and-serve meals to fresh, delicious, scratch-cooking. Kat’s menus reflect the knowledge and commitment she earned from over 20 years of experience in school nutrition. The district’s freshly-prepared meals use produce and bulk milk sourced primarily from local distributors, Tahoe Food Hub and Produce Plus, allowing cafeterias to feature salad bars with reusable silverware, plates, and milk dispensers. These innovations and the district’s support for student-led teams who monitor and compost food waste were recognized with a US Department of Education Green Ribbon Award in 2018. Kat, along with her nutrition services team, hopes to empower students to make choices that positively influence their health, community, and the environment.