COI Partner Highlight: Introducing Paige Metz

Paige Metz

Paige Metz received her BS in Physical Education from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.  After graduation, she spent 10 years teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Exercise and Nutritional Science (ENS) at Twin Peaks Middle School (2001 California Middle School Physical Education Program of the Year).  During this time, Paige was one of the first physical educators in the country to earn recognition as a Nationally Board Certified Teacher and was named the 2003 California Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year by the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (CAHPERD).  In 2003, Paige joined the ENS staff at Westview High School (2005 California High School Physical Education Program of the Year) where she taught for 7 years and served as department chair.  Currently, Paige is the Health and Physical Education Curriculum Coordinator at the San Diego County Office of Education where she supports the efforts of 42 school districts and over 120 charter schools in their efforts to provide high quality, standards-based instruction that empowers students to attain and maintain a healthy lifestyle. She is a Domain Champion for the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative, and is an active member of both CAHPERD and the Society for Health and Physical Education (SHAPE) America.

Title: Health and Physical Education Curriculum Coordinator with the San Diego County Office of Education

When did you realize that you wanted to teach physical education?

I wanted to teach physical education since 7th grade and all of my friends made fun of me at the time. When I was a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I majored in communications because everyone told me not to major in physical education. I hated it. After meeting someone with a physical education major, I decided to switch. I enjoyed being a teaching assistant at Cal Poly; it really felt like a second skin. Afterwards I taught exercise and nutrition science to middle school students for 10 years at Twin Peaks (in Poway), where I went to school.

How did you become involved in the COI?

In 2010 when I began working with San Diego County of Education, Cheryl Moder, formerly the director of COI, scheduled a meeting with me. A few months later we received the Community Putting Prevention to Work grant, and this gave me the opportunity to become more involved.

Why do you stay involved with the COI?

It is really nice seeing so many passionate people working together. It can be difficult for outside agencies to influence the education system, and if you are outside the system, it's hard to get involved. In the beginning of my teaching career, there were no kids with diabetes. By the end, I had a lot of students that were diabetic. I had 6th graders who weighed 250 lbs. and at that point I realized that it's a systemic problem, and the more we can collaborate, the more we can change the system.

What do you love about your job?

I love that I have the ability to impact thousands of students by training teachers and providing resources to schools. I help ensure students receive quality physical education at schools and that they leave with a skill set and mindset that supports regular physical activity. I miss working with kids, but I have two high school students at home.

What are three words that describe you?

Enthusiastic, positive, and action-oriented.

What is your favorite place in San Diego?

Probably La Jolla Shores, because we paddleboard there quite a bit.

What do you do for fun?

Travel and anything outdoors. We were just in Amsterdam and everyone there was so active, people rode their bikes everywhere! My family also spends a lot of time up in Mammoth hiking, skiing, and snowmobiling. I also enjoy spinning, stand-up paddle boarding, reading, and walking with my chocolate lab.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Professionally, it is being 2003 California Physical Education Teacher of the Year. Personally, it is my kids. They are 17 and 18 now and one is getting ready to go to college in Michigan on an athletic scholarship.

What are your three greatest passions?

I probably shouldn't list wine here. Family, being healthy and active, and discovering new adventures.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I'm probably the most predictable person. I really like a good cheeseburger. I also binge watch the Academy Awards and everyone in my house knows to leave me alone when the awards shows are on.

COI Partner Highlight: Introducing Keturah Swenson

Keturah Swenson

Keturah (or Ketty) Swenson completed the Didactic Program in Dietetics at San Diego State University, earning a degree in Food Science and Nutrition, and currently works as a Nutritionist for Child Development Associates (CDA). CDA is a sponsor of several federally funded social services including the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Part of her job as the nutritionist is to create trainings and provide nutrition education for approximately 1,250 private in-home child care providers and about 30 preschool center staff who participate in their CACFP program.

Title: Nutritionist

When did you know that you wanted to work in this career field?

I have always enjoyed learning about how the body works. I enjoy science and food, so getting a degree in nutrition made sense for me, but I didn't know that I would be working as a nutrition educator in the early child development field until I was in college. I became aware of food insecurity problems that we have here in San Diego and realized that helping to ensure that all children have access to healthy foods was important to me.

How did you become involved in the COI?

I became involved in the COI when I began working for CDA. CDA has been a long-time supporter of COI as an agency interested in impacting the health and wellness of children, I got lucky as the nutritionist to be our representative.

Why do you stay involved with the COI?

I have seen the impact that the COI has in the early child development community and I am so inspired by all of the incredible work that is accomplished when we work together.

What do you love about your job?

I love so much about my job! I love getting to work with child care providers, visiting child care facilities and seeing the children enjoy healthy foods, but mostly I love knowing that the work I do helps to ensure that nutritious meals are available to children who may not have otherwise had access to those meals.

What are three words that describe you?

Silly, empathetic, determined

What is your favorite place in San Diego?

Home! I'm a total homebody, so most of the time, there is nowhere I'd rather be.

What do you do for fun?

I like to read, hike, camp, paint a bit, spend time with friends, go to the San Diego Zoo, watch movies, and cook.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Graduating college!

What are your three greatest passions?

Traveling, being of service to friends & family, and always learning new things.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I grew up in southern Arizona on a small family farm where we raised goats and chickens, horses, sheep, cats and dogs, and many other animals. I raised pigs for 4-H and showed them in the county fair for years. I love animals and for the last 18+ years that I've lived in San Diego, I have not owned ONE pet!

COI Highlight: Introducing Dan Bennett

Dan Bennett


Dan Bennett is a Communications Director at UC San Diego Center for Community Health and a San Diego native who has worked on community-health projects for the past seven years, leading communications and messaging efforts, and helping organizations tell their story through focus on human impact, including storytelling training for organization staff. Dan spent more than 20 years as a reporter for daily newspapers in San Diego, and has also written freelance for the Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly and other regional and national publications, including numerous health publications.  Dan is the COI Media Domain Co-Chair.

When did you know that you wanted to work in media?

I grew up in San Diego, and at an early age was reading daily newspapers, watching television news and listening to radio news. I was compelled by the process of sharing information - how it was accomplished, and what it meant  -  and knew early on I wanted to be a part of that sharing, through media. These days, information is shared much differently, and anyone can do it. That presents some challenges, but I continue to see that effective and accurate information sharing is an important part of a vital and healthy community.

How did you become involved in the COI?

In 2010, I started work for UC San Diego Center for Community Health as communications manager for a CDC-funded project called Communities Putting Prevention to Work, implemented by the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency. The work connected to the goals of the COI, and I began working with the COI as a member of the Media Domain. I continued collaborating with COI on media while I was communications manager for the County's Healthy Works initiative, then stayed on the COI Media Domain when I returned to UCSD, now serving as the domain co-chair while working on REACH Chula Vista, a project advancing community-health opportunities in western Chula Vista, and REACH Be There, a project addressing heart-health and disparities in Southeast San Diego.

Why do you stay involved with the COI?

The goals of the projects I've worked on are similar in scope and purpose to those of COI, particularly in our common pursuit of policy, systems and environmental changes in San Diego County communities. Because of health-inequity issues, not everyone has access to healthy choices. The goals of COI, especially those involving such community partners as schools, business, government and more, are essential to healthy communities, and communicating those goals through key messages and sharing of information is an important part of the process.

What do you love about of your job?

Working with so many varied partners in San Diego County who all share like-minded goals and have so many creative methods of accomplishing those. I'm also excited about the new ways we share information, such as social media and purposeful use of video to tell stories. Storytelling - in this case the art of telling a story through human and community impact - is essential to the future of community health.

What are three words that describe you?

Listener, learner, communicator

What is your favorite place in San Diego?

I was born and grew up here and have seen the county change. I can't name a favorite, so I'll name a few where I've spent countless hours as a kid and an adult: Downtown, Balboa Park, Belmont Park, Qualcomm Stadium, Oceanside Pier, Carlsbad beaches, and my current South Park neighborhood.

What do you do for fun?

I coach Little League baseball. I also collect books with every intention of reading them, but, you know, soon.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Raising my two children, both now teenagers who have remained reasonably normal. Ha.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I climbed a volcano in Nicaragua alone in a rainstorm, and I can't parallel park even if someone is calmly giving me instructions.




COI Partner Highlight: Introducing Natalie Muth

Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, FAAP is a dual board-certified pediatrician and obesity medicine physician and registered dietitian. She practices general pediatrics at Children's Primary Care Medical Group where she also leads a healthy weight clinic called the W.E.L.L. Clinic. In addition, she is the Senior Advisor for Healthcare Solutions for the American Council on Exercise and a member of the Executive Committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Obesity. She is the author of five books including the soon-to-be-released The Picky Eater Project: 6 Weeks to Happier, Healthier Family Mealtimes, authored with Sally Sampson of ChopChop Magazine and published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Muth graduated from UCLA with majors in psychology and physiological sciences with college honors, summa cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a Master of Public Health in nutrition at University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill completing her master thesis on childhood obesity screening in schools based on her work at the CDC's Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. She graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine where she was awarded the Davis Pediatric Student Scholar, recognition given to the most promising medical student planning to specialize in pediatrics. She completed her training in pediatrics at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital in the Community Health and Advocacy Training track.

Title: Pediatrician, COI Private Sector Co-Chair

When did you know that you wanted to become a physician?

As a college student I became extremely interested in human health, nutrition, exercise, and the incredible privilege and opportunity that medicine offers to be able to make a positive impact on people's lives and health.

How did you become involved in the COI?

I first learned about the COI several years ago. A cutting edge, multi-sector initiative, its mission to optimize kids' health through collaboration and community-level changes inspired me and I couldn't wait to be involved. In 2012, I joined the healthcare and media domains. In 2015 I was thrilled when the opportunity to serve as co-chair opened up and that my medical group, Children's Primary Care Medical Group, supported me in serving in this capacity. I'm grateful to be involved with the COI and the exciting work of helping the County of San Diego be the healthiest place to raise kids by pushing an agenda to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

Why do you stay involved with the COI?

The COI is a great model of collective impact and how working together across domains can help to achieve our shared mission of preventing and reducing childhood obesity and improving kids' health. I am committed to helping all children have the opportunity to eat healthfully, be active, and thrive. I think that the COI is a powerful entity which helps us to make that ideal possible for more kids.

What do you love about of your job?

My favorite part of being a pediatrician is getting to know the kids and families that come to my office. I love watching them grow and develop and I also like serving as kind of a coach for parents who are on this most incredible adventure of parenting. I love that as part of the COI I can advocate for changes that will positively impact my patients in the communities where they live, learn, and play.

What are three words that describe you?

Passionate, Persistent, Caring

What is your favorite place in San Diego?

Moonlight Beach in Encinitas

What do you do for fun?

Hang out with my kids and husband doing anything active.

Travel. We especially love National Parks.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

I am most proud of my two kids. I love being their mom and all of the fun (and challenges) that come along with that.

What are your three greatest passions?

I am passionate about promoting (and practicing) health through nutrition, physical activity, and healthful behavior changes in fun, innovative, and (hopefully effective) ways. My mission is to help create and support environments that make the healthy choice the easy (and fun!) choice.

I am passionate about pursuing new adventures and experiences with my family and learning new lessons from each of them along the way.

I am passionate about pediatrics and the incredible and rewarding privilege it offers me to help kids (and their families) thrive.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

As a kid I really struggled to eat healthfully and be active and was affected by childhood obesity. I had a few turning points, but the most significant one was when my mom and I hiked down and out of the Grand Canyon when I was a junior in high school. We weren't sure if we could do it, but at the end of the day, we made it! It was from that experience that I was convinced of the power of prevention, especially physical activity and nutrition, to optimize physical and mental health.

Good Food at Work, School, and Play: Healthy and Sustainable Vending Forum

Did you know that more than 100 million Americans use vending machines each day? As businesses, schools, and the individuals throughout the nation deal with a chronic disease epidemic, many are beginning to take their snacks seriously, including those in vending machines.

In 2016, the top five consumer food trends are simple foods with transparent labels, free for all foods (e.g., gluten-free, wheat-free, etc.), vegetarian options or more animal-friendly products, less processed foods, and products with vegetables incorporated into the recipe. In an effort to make the healthy choice the easy choice, and provide people more of the foods they want, the County of San Diego Public Health Services, UC San Diego School of Medicine, the American Heart Association, and the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative hosted a healthy and sustainable vending forum on Thursday, June 23, 2016.

The purpose of the event was to connect organizations to vendors specializing in healthy, sustainable products; highlighted local best practices; and identified ways organizations could formalize healthy vending as part of their organizational culture through policy.

The event included an all-start cast that inspired change.Aysha Pamukcu, Staff Attorney for ChangeLab Solutions made the case that healthy vending policies and nutrition standards can help reduce the health and economic impacts of obesity-the cost of obesity among full-time employees to employers is approximately $73.1 billion.

Naomi Billups, Public Health Nutrition Manager for the County of San Diego, Health and Human Services Agency, and Fabian Cervantes, Human Resources Generalist and Coordinator for Goodwill Industries of San Diego County shared their personal experiences with changing County and organizational policy in nutrition standards at the local level. The County of San Diego revealed that it would soon be updating its policy to go beyond health and promote sustainable products with less packaging waste.

Afterwards, organizations that make this type of vending a reality took to the podium. Representatives from CanteenGrowHealthy On-The-Go Vending, and Daily Harvest Market presented on their product lines and offered samples to guests. Companies were able to provide a wide array of healthier foods from refrigerated to shelf stable, and could even provide organizations that housed the machines a share of the revenue.

If you weren't able to make this event and you want to be part of the movement, don't fret. Resources such as policy examples, tools on the creation of healthy and sustainable vending policies, and a list of healthy vendors are available by contacting JuliAnna Arnett, Food Systems Specialist with the County of San Diego, Health and Human Services Agency. To see more photos from the event, click here.

COI Highlight: Introducing Cheri Fidler

With a background in education and planning, Cheri was always passionate about supporting children and improving their lives. She began her career at Rady Children's Hospital as a director of Community Health (now the Center for Healthy Communities), and she has been a member of the Rady Children's Hospital team for 28 years. The Center for Healthy Communities uses evidence based practices derived from the community needs assessment, the Children's Report Card and other sources to help promote healthy living for children. Cheri's work involves an array of projects including injury prevention, immunization, tobacco, oral health, nutrition and healthy lifestyles and youth development. When Cheri is not working to improve childhood health she is either practicing yoga, spending time with family, refining her gardening and cooking skills, or practicing holistic health.

How did you become involved with the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative?

I was involved with the COI before it began under the leadership of supervisors Ron Roberts and Pam Slater Price. Rady Children's saw the rise in childhood obesity early on and were ready to help with obesity prevention. I have been involved in Leadership Council, Action Plan Development, and Healthcare Domain since the beginning of COI.

What do you love most about your job?

A lot of things. One of the most significant [aspects] is the ability to do work that helps to benefit kids, which is my strongest passion. I get to work with the most wonderful people who share the same passion and desires, and test out creative approaches to improving community health.

What is your favorite place in San Diego? What do you do for fun?

I love to walk and so my favorite place is along the coast and Mission Trails. I like to walk from South Mission Bay to La Jolla, and have even walked from Oceanside to Solana Beach.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Probably raising kids, and then creating and guiding the Center for Healthier Communities. In 2003, I went back to school to become a holistic health practitioner and try to integrate that profession into the work I do at Rady Children's Hospital.

What are some of your strongest passions?

Family (including dog), work, and self-care (involving yoga and walking).

Where are your favorite places to travel to?

Ireland countryside is beautiful. In the US, it's New England.

If you could describe yourself in three words what would they be?

Energetic, mindful, and people-person.

3rd Annual Let's Go Local! Produce Showcase

White canopies draped with burlap cloth, dozens of farmers standing by proud displays of produce, and people in sunhats smiling wide and admiring brightly colored fruits and vegetables: welcome to the third annual Let's Go Local! Produce Showcase!

This year's Showcase, held on October 23, 2015 at the Leichtag Foundation Ranch in Encinitas, was a huge success! Over 200 attendees had the opportunity to meet nearly 50 exhibitors, including 37 local farms and food producers, 3 produce distributors, and 8 educational partners. This year's Showcase was held in conjunction with Food Day (October 24th), a nationwide day of action promoting a vision of food that is healthy, affordable, and produced with care.

The Let's Go Local! Produce Showcase is the cornerstone event in CHIP's work to grow the local food economy by helping large institutional buyers connect with growers of fresh, healthy, local produce and other sustainable food producers. Fostering the market in which these buyers and sellers interact sets the stage for profitable and sustainable business relationships that help grow a healthy community, economy, and food system. Let's go Local! is a unique opportunity for these buyers and sellers to meet face-to-face to explore potential business relationships and community partnerships.

During the Showcase's brief comments, Kevin Gorham, Aquaponic Specialist at Solutions for Change shared these eloquent words:

"Currently the Vista Unified School District (VUSD) is our largest buyer.  Our relationship with VUSD started at Farm to School Taskforce meetings, with casual conversations between interested parties.  We've got a saying at Solutions, "Connect, Trust, Act" If you don't connect with someone you can't trust them and if you don't trust someone you're not going to act on anything with them, and you definitely aren't going to buy your food from them."

Liz Gary, with San Diego Soy Dairy said, "Due to the Let's Go Local program we are well on our way to introducing our product into a number of new venues."  Janis Garcia with Daily Harvest Market told us, "We loved, loved, loved the Let's Go Local event!!! We connected with lots of new growers which is really helpful and made some great connections.  Thank you for including us and we can't wait till next year!"

Thanks immensely to those who attended and exhibited at the 2015 Let's Go Local! Produce Showcase. An impressive array of dynamic organizations, businesses, and individuals continue to advance the shared goal of a creating a food system that contributes to a healthy community, economy, and environment. We are in this together. Now, onward!

Stephanie Gioia-Beckman

Most COI partners know Stephanie Gioia-Beckman as Supervisor Ron Roberts' Senior Policy Advisor and a longtime supporter of the COI, but you may be surprised to learn that Stephanie never really had her sights on politics or government work. Child welfare had always been her passion, so Stephanie attended UC Santa Barbara, where she received a bachelor's degree in psychology, and planned to one day become a psychiatrist.

For four years, she worked as a counselor then supervisor at a residential treatment center for severely emotionally distrurbed foster youth. "I wanted to become a psychiatrist, but after learning about the child welfare system that abused children face, I realized one-on-one therapy wouldn't make enough impact; we need larger scale change," Stephanie remembers. She applied to graduate school at San Diego State University's School of Social Work and while waiting to hear back, she came across an employment opportunity working with former state Senator Dede Alpert, a known juvenile justice, child welfare, and health advocate.

"Senator Alpert was very well respected and the first female senator to chair the appropriations committee," recalls Stephanie. Despite Stephanie's lack of government experience, her commitment to child welfare aligned with Senator Alpert's and she was hired as a community representative. Over nearly five years, she gained experience serving on committees and working with the community on legislation.

Stephanie recalls the time when a young resident contacted Senator Alpert's office to discuss the challenges CalWORKS recipients face to save money for a college education: "If a CalWORKS recipient saved money for post-secondary education, their savings would disqualify them from obtaining benefits." While working with Stephanie to draft legislation to address this issue, the youth was tragically killed in a car accident. To continue the legacy of the young community advocate, Stephanie worked diligently with the family members to pass legislation that would prevent educational saving accounts from impacting CalWORKS income eligibility. This experience reaffirmed Stephanie's commitment to public service and the impact policies have on individuals.

In 2004, with Senator Alpert's term limit approaching, Stephanie was hired by County Supervisor Ron Roberts because of their mutual commitments to children and health. Over the past 11 years, Stephanie has worked for Supervisor Roberts and says the favorite part of her job is, "sitting at the table with community and other parts of government to solve big, societal issues collaboratively." Connecting with community members is integral because "feedback helps frame the issues for decision makers."

Stephanie's involvement in childhood obesity prevention actually preceded the development of the Call to Action: San Diego County Childhood Obesity Action Plan (Action Plan) and creation of the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative. In 2004, she served on the steering committee that developed the first Action Plan. Stephanie has been involved with the COI since its inception and continues to serve on the Leadership Council and as a co-chair of the Government Domain. When asked what keeps her engaged in the COI she responded, "it's a great resource to learn about community health issues, organize, and implement community change."

While reflecting on her career, Stephanie admits, "I've always been sad that I haven't pursued my master's degree, but the experience from my career would not have been captured in any degree program." In her free time, Stephanie enjoys spending time with her family and said one of her proudest accomplishments is being a mom to her two sons. "It's the most important job, creating an individual and raising him to be a productive contributor to society."

Fulfilling Her Passion: Helping Families Live Healthier Lives

Kim McDougal is a third generation Alaska native and admits that when her family first moved to San Diego when she was 15 years old, it "was a hard adjustment." As a child, Kim enjoyed exploring the outdoors, camping, and fishing on the weekends, so when her family relocated to Encinitas for her father's work, the change of scenery and cultural norms were quite a shock.

Kim attended college at UC Davis and studied International Relations and Spanish. It was her work with the Boston Health Department Lead Poisoning Prevention program that really sparked her interest in children's health. Kim decided to move back to California to earn a Masters of Public Health and a Masters of Child and Family Development at San Diego State University. One of her fondest memories while attending school was an assignment working with a small community that made leaded ceramics in Oaxaca, Mexico. The project aimed to understand the Oaxaca community's perception of lead and then determine an appropriate intervention. The class determined a nutrition intervention would be most fitting and modified local recipes as a means to minimize the impacts of lead exposure through healthy nutrition. The students then held a huge celebration and shared the food and recipes with the community members.

Upon completing her coursework, Kim's commitment to children's health led her to the YMCA Childcare Resource Service, where she now serves as executive manager. Kim is a co-chair of the COI's Early Childhood Domain. She is extremely passionate about her work and loves "visiting preschools, seeing the kids, and working with families and childcare providers who are doing the hardest work out there."

Kim was quick to mention that her favorite part of the job is "working with passionate, talented, and fun people within the YMCA as well as with community partners on collaborative grants and committees." On second thought, she admitted, her "favorite part of the job is the actual work that we do supporting children, low income families, and the community. That's really at the core, and then secondary is the amazing people that I work with."

During her free-time Kim enjoys cooking, camping, hiking (with her dog), and running (she has completed four half marathons). Kim feels a deep connection to the Mexican culture and has been volunteering for nine years as a "Big" through Big Brother Big Sisters with her "Little," who is from Oaxaca, Mexico. In retrospect, Kim admits that although the move to California was an adjustment, it has led her to many great opportunities, experiences, and to her passion: helping children and families lead healthier lives!


2014 Let's Go Local! Produce Showcase

LGL 2014

On October 24, the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative's Farm to School Taskforce celebrated Food Day by hosting the second annual Let's Go Local! Produce Showcase for local institutional buyers, growers and distributors of fruits and vegetables. The event, which took place at the Ranch (441 Saxony Road, in Encinitas), drew nearly 40 local growers and eight distributors, as well as a number of critical partner agencies like the San Diego County Farm Bureau, UC San Diego Center for Community Health, County of San Diego, and hundreds of institutional produce buyers.

The Produce Showcase was generously hosted by the Leichtag Foundation, a Jewish non-profit foundation that is transforming that site, the former location of the Ecke Ranch (poinsettia growing capital of the world), into a hub for sustainable agriculture and Jewish community. The purpose of the Produce Showcase is to open up a new, viable market for local growers, and to direct more fresh, local produce toward institutional food procurement. This corresponds with Leichtag's focus on nurturing a strong, healthy regional food system that serves all San Diegans.

San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts spoke about the importance of the event to revitalizing our community's health and economy and praised this year's event organizers (who included staff from Community Health Improvement Partners, the OC Food Access Coalition, and a number of engaged participants) for nearly tripling the size of the event from last year. JuliAnna Arnett, the lead organizer, spoke about the importance of the Produce Showcase for improving San Diego County's institutional food offerings, and Christina Hall, of the Orange County Food Access Coalition, emphasized the event's significance to the broader Southern Californian food system. Jim Farley, Leichtag Foundation's president and CEO, welcomed participants to the Ranch and voiced hopes that one day the Produce Showcase might be made permanent in the form of a farmers' market at the Ranch.

The real test of the Produce Showcase's success starts now. It will be measured by how many buyers pick up the phone and call local growers to ask for local produce, or express interest in purchasing local when renegotiating contracts with distributors. In the days following the showcase, we are already hearing stories of success. An Orange County farm identified its first-ever school district customers. A produce distributor reconnected with a local mushroom grower after nine years of no contact and plans to once again purchase their product. A local restaurant left the event with plans to buy from three local farms, including an egg producer and a lettuce grower. A local school district scheduled meetings with multiple farms and has introduced the idea of a "cowpool", a group purchase of cut and wrapped locally-raised, grassfed beef, to a district principal and teachers. We hope to hear more of these stories in the following months and ensure that everyone in San Diego County has access to fresh, local produce, particularly our schools and hospitals, where a significant number of meals are served. We hope to see you at next year's Produce Showcase!


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