San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FOOD + HOME - By Tara Dug­gan Tara Dug­gan is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: tdug­[email protected]­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @taradug­gan.com

Suzan DelBene wants to get Rus­sian fish sticks out of Amer­i­can school cafe­te­rias.

In a new bill the Wash­ing­ton state rep­re­sen­ta­tive in­tro­duced to Congress last month, school dis­tricts that get fund­ing through the Na­tional School Lunch Pro­gram would be re­quired to buy only Amer­i­can seafood, with the goal of sup­port­ing do­mes­tic fish­ers and pro­vid­ing bet­ter seafood to chil­dren. Sixty per­cent of the al­most 3 mil­lion pounds of pol­lock — the flaky white fish of­ten used for fish sticks — pur­chased through the pro­gram last year came from Rus­sia; the other 40 per­cent from Alaska.

The fact that DelBene feels the need to put the re­quire­ment into law shows how dif­fi­cult it is to get lo­cal food into school cafe­te­rias.

While Berke­ley’s Ed­i­ble School­yard Pro­ject laid the ground­work when it started in 1995, a wider move­ment is now tak­ing hold, partly thanks to the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s Farm to School Grant Pro­gram, which started in 2012.

This year, Ed­i­ble School­yard is one of four Bay Area non­prof­its, school dis­tricts and coun­ties that will re­ceive one of those grants, which it will use to train ed­u­ca­tors. Sonoma County earned close to $100,000 to ex­pand its farm-to-preschool pro­grams serv­ing low-in­come chil­dren.

Berke­ley’s Cen­ter for Eco­l­it­er­acy also will re­ceive $100,000 to pro­vide more train­ing and re­sources in its Cal­i­for­nia Thurs­days pro­ject, which en­cour­ages schools to serve Cal­i­for­nia-grown food once a week — or at least reg­u­larly. The pro­gram launched with Oak­land Uni- fied School District in 2013 and is now in 58 state school dis­tricts.

But while Cal­i­for­nia pro­duce is mak­ing in­roads, there are sig­nif­i­cant hur­dles to get­ting lo­cal pro­teins to schools.

When the bud­get for a school en­tree is around just 65 cents, as it is in Oak­land Uni­fied, it’s not easy to af­ford lo­cal seafood, meat or chicken, al­though the district’s menu plan­ner, Amy Glodde, man­ages to buy some pas­ture-raised beef and or­ganic chicken by us­ing smaller por­tions and buy­ing cheaper pro­tein other days of the week.

Glodde al­ready buys only Amer­i­can seafood, she says, in­clud­ing lo­cal seafood through a pro­gram with seafood pur­veyor Real Good Fish, which sources by­catch fish like gre­nadier from Bay Area fish­er­men for school dis­tricts.

“We should be buy­ing do­mes­tic when we can to sup­port our lo­cal fish­er­men and pro­ces­sors, and if it’s more nu­tri­tious too, it’s a no-brainer,” says Ram­sey Cox, DelBene’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor.

DelBene be­lieves do­mes­tic seafood is bet­ter for chil­dren since im­ported seafood is usu­ally frozen and de­frosted mul­ti­ple times in its jour­ney to the United States, los­ing nu­tri­ents in the process.

Im­ported fish gen­er­ally is cheaper since a large por­tion of seafood’s cost comes from fil­let­ing and han­dling. Most Rus­sian pol­lack is pro­cessed in China, where la­bor costs

“We should be buy­ing do­mes­tic when we can to sup­port our lo­cal fish­er­men and pro­ces­sors, and if it’s more nu­tri­tious too, it’s a no-brainer.” Ram­sey Cox, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for Rep. Suzan DelBene

are sig­nif­i­cantly lower than in Alaska.

The Na­tional School Lunch Pro­gram al­ready has a pro­vi­sion that calls on school dis­tricts to buy do­mes­tic food prod­ucts “to the max­i­mum ex­tent prac­ti­ca­ble.” DelBene’s leg­is­la­tion would change the lan­guage to specif­i­cally re- quire the pur­chase of Amer­i­can seafood, whether farmed or wild. Tuna, which is of­ten caught in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters, would have to come from an Amer­i­can ves­sel.

When it comes to other foods, if Congress ap­proves, the Farm to School grant pro­gram is poised to in­crease from $5 mil­lion to $10 mil­lion a year, which means more school kids could be eat­ing lo­cal food in years to come.

James Ten­suan / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle 2015

James Ten­suan / Spe­cial to the Chron­i­cle 2015

As Cal­i­for­nia schools try to get more lo­cal food into school lunch pro­grams, stu­dents in Monterey, top and above, try fish tacos. Left: Ed­uardo Guer­rero (left) and El­liott Nguyen grab plates of chicken and rice last sum­mer at an Oak­land school as part of the Cal­i­for­nia Thurs­days eco­l­it­er­acy pro­gram.

Michael Short / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle 2015

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