2021 Annual ReporT

Our impact in 2021 was wide ranging from co-sponsoring groundbreaking legislation in California to supporting school leaders through the challenges in food security and public education.

Dear friends,

When I co-founded the Center for Ecoliteracy in 1995, we began with the recognition that for lasting change to happen, we needed to address education. We listened, and developed educational experiences that transform children’s understanding of the natural world and how to live sustainably, using school gardens and fresh, local food as a focus. Over 25 years later, these values have taken on new meaning and importance as we collectively face challenges to our health, education, and climate. 

I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished this past year, from co-sponsoring groundbreaking legislation for California’s 6.2 million students to receive free breakfast and lunch at school, to supporting the California Food for California Kids® Network of school food leaders during this challenging time in food security and public education. Read on to learn more about our impact in 2021.

For your good health,

Zenobia Barlow
Interim Executive Director




2021 brought our biggest policy win to date: School Meals for All. We co-sponsored legislation for California’s 6.2 million public school children to receive free breakfast and lunch at school, a groundbreaking policy that addresses barriers to access and reduces educational inequities. As the first state in the nation to provide free school meals to all, California is leading the way for our country to make healthy school meals a part of every child’s educational day.


As part of our advocacy for School Meals for All, we also secured $150 million for training and equipment to support school nutrition professionals in serving more freshly-prepared school meals and $30 million for farm to school in the 2021 state budget, making California’s farm to school grant program the largest in the country. As we work to strengthen the capacity and commitment of California’s K–12 schools to serve freshly-prepared meals made with locally-grown food, these investments will support schools in increasing local procurement, serving fresh school meals, and providing garden, culinary, and food systems education.

“Farm to School programs can connect food and nutrition literacy to the cafeteria, reducing school food stigma and nourishing our students.”
Janelle Manzano, Farm to School Specialist, San Diego Unified

“When we offer freshly prepared meals, twice as many students eat at school. Growing, hungry kids deserve fresh, local food.”
Jennifer LeBarre, Executive Director of Student Nutrition Services, San Francisco Unified


About seven billion school meals are served every year in the US. Improving the quality of those meals provides an unparalleled opportunity to make positive contributions to student health and learning. Our newly published Plant-Forward School Meal Resources provide schools with free recipes, culinary techniques, and student engagement materials for success in crafting plant-forward school meals. 

“Recipes like those in Plant-Forward Cooking Students Love––freshly prepared from local, plant-forward ingredients––can contribute to sustainable outcomes on our farms and in the natural environment.”
Frances Moore Lappé, author, Diet for a Small Planet




Engaging students’ interest is especially important to help school nutrition programs succeed. Our new student engagement guide Success with Plant Forward Meals supports school nutrition professionals in their efforts to foster student acceptance and enjoyment of freshly prepared, plant-forward meals. When paired with a new collection of posters featuring popular California-grown crops, the guide integrates strategies that provide enjoyable, enriching, and educational experiences for students. The posters include nutrition information, a history about the crop’s origins, and its importance to California agriculture.


Our interactive guide Understanding Food and Climate was recognized in the North American Association for Environmental Education’s Guidelines for Excellence in Environmental Education Materials. We featured this publication and other K–12 environmental and food systems educational materials in our professional development workshops to the 30 educators participating in the San Mateo County Office of Education’s Environmental Solutionary Teacher Fellowship Program.


A new project, “Eating, Learning, Growing” began and will launch in 2022 with the development of a culturally-responsive framework for educators to adapt existing farm to school educational resources as well as large-scale graphic installations at school sites to increase student knowledge and consumption of California fruits and vegetables.




Our California Food for California Kids initiative builds the capacity and commitment of school food leaders to nourish their students with fresh, California-grown meals and ecological education. The Network of nearly 100 school districts serves 2,089,148 students and 329,831,033 school meals annually. The 2021 California Food for California Kids Leadership and Innovation Awards recognized six inspiring leaders and lifted up their lasting models for school food systems change. Despite the challenges to school meal programs during the pandemic, this growing Network remains committed to serving local, freshly-prepared school meals and providing garden, culinary, and food system education.

“Excellence starts with good ingredients!”
Erin Primer, San Luis Coastal Unified School District


School nutrition departments faced numerous challenges in 2021, from supply chain issues to staffing shortages. To support their efforts, we provided resources to build resilience and expand their impact on student health, learning readiness, and environmental understanding. Our Community of Practice series reached 1,052 participants from 632 organizations in 45 states. Our new School Food Innovator series has reached 973 schools and will continue in 2022, highlighting best practices for school meals programs from members of the California Food for California Kids® Network. Fresh from California, our new campaign to increase access to California-grown fruits and vegetables in schools, will provide school districts with menu planning support, farmer visits, marketing materials, media outreach, and more.

“These calls are the most influential part of our successes during the COVID-19 experience.”
Ed Burke, Child Nutrition Services Director, Santa Rosa City Schools


Our dynamic partnerships continue to be a key ingredient for our success. Thank you to those we’ve partnered closely with this year:

California Association of Food Banks

California Department of Food and Agriculture, Office of Farm to Fork

Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Frontier Energy


NextGen California

Office of Kat Taylor


Looking Ahead

In 2022, the Center for Ecoliteracy will continue to pursue change in K–12 education and school food systems to provide a more just, sustainable, and equitable experience for our children and the people who nourish them. We will listen and take action to identify and include missing voices in our response to the emergent needs in school communities.