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Representative Projects and Engagements


California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program Evaluation

FCS is Project Co-Lead and Policy Co-Lead in partnership with University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources (UC ANR), Food Insight Group (FIG) and UC Berkeley. This project arises out of “Planting the Seed, Farm to School Roadmap for Success,” (Roadmap) released by First Partner of California, Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Karen Ross, Secretary for the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA). 


The interdisciplinary research team will evaluate the extent to which CDFA’s Farm to School Incubator Grant Program was implemented as intended and supports;


a. innovative food and nutrition education opportunities for students that coordinate activities across cafeterias, classrooms and communities and result in:

i. positive changes in educational opportunities, menus and school meal program participation, particularly in school districts in lower-income communities and those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change;


b. procurement of California-grown foods for school meals from regional farms that results in:

i. economic benefit to participating California farmers, particularly those prioritized in the Roadmap and Farm to School Incubator Grant Program Request for Applications (RFA)

ii. environmental benefits through supporting Climate Smart Agricultural management practices and production systems by participating farms

iii. capacity for school food service directors (or school districts) to afford regional procurement processes, transaction costs, processing and labor costs and equipment associated with regional procurement within accepted budgets

iv. select community economic development impacts, particularly for communities prioritized in the RFA and Roadmap;


c. creating scalable change through policies and dedicated funding that would result in lasting impacts from farm to fork


Debbie spearheaded this project and along with colleagues at FIG and UC ANR organized the research team. FCS is responsible for; 


• oversight of all aspects of the scope of work, with a particular focus on development of policy recommendations based on findings related to underlying enabling conditions that allow successful farm to school programs to emerge and be sustained, barriers to those enabling conditions, and examples of success, and 

• coordinating meetings with CDFA and agencies with overlapping priorities, key state and federal policymakers, and farm to school stakeholders (including producers, school districts and partnering organizations), to share findings and recommendations.


Healthy School Food Pathway Apprenticeship Program

The Healthy School Food Pathway Program is the first in the nation registered apprenticeship program for school food workers developed by Chef Ann Foundation (CAF) in partnership with California Community Colleges. This program supports education and workforce development for scratch cooked, healthy school food in California. The paid, competency based pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship pipeline program provides unique educational opportunities and hands-on experience in healthy K-12 school meal programs to California Community College students in culinary, nutrition, food service management and hospitality programs; incumbent school food service employees; and displaced or transitional workers in related industries.  


Debbie supports CAF’s CEO with the design, development and expansion of this new program, with a particular focus on partnering with the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Apprenticeship Standards and the US Department of Labor to register the program and adhere to ongoing rules and regulations. In her current role, Debbie guides CAF’s CEO with government relations, development of the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, relationships with key union partners including California School Employees Association (CSEA) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and is the lead for development of CAF’s partnership with Job Corps, a U.S. Department of Labor program founded by Sargent Shriver in 1964. California allocated $45 million to this new program in its legislative budget (SB 178) on June 26, 2022. 


Cafeteria Collective

Debbie is a founding member of the Cafeteria Collective (website coming soon). Cafeteria Collective is a self-organized, cross-sector group committed to redesigning the American school food system through strategic research, equity-centered design, and a new national narrative around school meals.


Co-Author, “Are California Public Schools Scratch-Cooking Ready? A survey of food service directors on the state of school kitchens.”

Vincent, Jeffrey M., Ariana Gunderson, Debbie Friedman, Angela McKee Brown, Sadie Wilson, and Vanessa Gomez. 2020. Are California Public Schools Scratch-Cooking Ready? A survey of food service directors on the state of school kitchens. Berkeley: Center for Cities + Schools, University of CaliforniaBerkeley.


While at Conscious Kitchen, Debbie spearheaded a partnership with UC Berkeley’s Center for Cities + Schools, The Edible Schoolyard Project and California Department of Food and Agriculture to conduct this statewide study, and continued it forward as co-author after launching FCS. 


To understand the opportunities and challenges to increasing healthy school meals across California, this study investigates the scratch-cooking readiness of the state’s public schools’ kitchens. The research team conducted a web-based survey of food service directors in California public school districts. Two hundred directors from 200 school districts responded. 


The findings related to obstacles nutritions directors face in incorporating scratch cooking into their school nutrition programs have helped inform state budget allocations in California for school kitchen infrastructure, equipment and staff training, as well as the development and design of the Healthy School Food Pathway program described above. This study was cited in an April 2022 Washington Post editorial “Cooking School Lunches from Scratch Can Fix Labor and Supply Issues” by Jennifer Gaddis, Associate Professor of Civil Society and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of “The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools.” [Dr. Gaddis is also a founding member of the Cafeteria Collective.]


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