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Free ag education project launching in Santa Barbara County
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Free ag education project launching in Santa Barbara County

Lompoc school first to sign up for program aimed at third graders

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A project that’s been successful in encouraging children to eat more healthy foods in Ventura County is being launched in Santa Barbara County, and a Lompoc school became the first to sign up for the free program.

The Santa Barbara County Child Wellness Initiative from Students for Eco-Education and Agriculture, or SEEAG, hopes to inspire children to eat healthy by adding locally grown fruits and vegetables to their diet, a spokeswoman for the organization said.

SEEAG has organized the Santa Barbara County Farm Day, when dozens of farms open their doors to the public, and now hopes to reach 1,000 schoolchildren, including low-income, Title 1 students, in 2021 through the wellness initiative, the spokeswoman said.

Crestview Elementary School in Lompoc was the first school to sign up for the new Santa Barbara County program, she said.

In live, one-hour online presentations, third graders will learn about the nutrients and health benefits of such Santa Barbara County specialty crops as strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, lettuce and avocados, with a different crop highlighted each month.

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A head of purplish blooms stands atop the stalk in an Innovative Produce field being harvested Monday afternoon on West Main Street in Santa Maria.

County growers participating in the program include Innovative Produce, headquartered on West Main Street in Santa Maria, which operates fields mostly located west of the city, plus another off Highway 246 near Lompoc.

George Adam, who with Deborah Adam owns Innovative Produce, said his company has been involved in Farm Day and is participating in SEEAG as part of its philosophy of educating people and improving their quality of life and wellness.

The company provides thousands of pounds of produce to Foodbank of Northern Santa Barbara County each year, and Adam said Innovative Produce will provide SEEAG with samples of its produce, which runs the full gamut from strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and celery to leaf lettuce, romaine, cilantro and spinach.

“It’s an education effort … on nutrition and eating habits and food preparation,” he said. “A lot of times, [people] don’t know how to prepare it if they don’t know the nutritional value of the food.”

As sixth-generation farmers, Adam said they believe in getting involved when a program is shown to be effective.

“It should be a win-win for everyone,” he said of the SEEAG program, as it will benefit not only his business but also the agriculture industry as a whole as well as current and future consumers.

“It’s also important to get the message out we’re still working, despite the pandemic,” Adam added.

Other growers participating in the program include Reiter Affiliated Companies, Babé Farms, Bonipak Produce Co., Driscoll’s, Mainstreet Produce, Plantel Nurseries and California Giant Berry Farms.

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A tractor tills an Innovative Produce field on West Main Street in Santa Maria.

SEEAG hopes to provide in-person education when students return to school campuses and is currently raising funds for a Farm Fresh Mobile Classroom van that would bring the nonprofit organization’s educators to schools for hands-on nutritional education and provide students with fresh produce from the local farms.

“Our program encourages kids to use their detective skills to learn about Santa Barbara County's local agriculture, to engage in thoughtful discussions about healthy eating, and even gets students up and dancing with their classmates and teachers,” said Kathleen Knight, SEEAG Child Wellness Initiative educator and program developer.

Lessons and activities, designed to engage students in a fun, interactive way, will teach them about the journey of our food — from seed to harvest to local markets, she said.

Students will be introduced to the “food rainbow,” made up of the different colors of fruit and vegetables, and will learn how each color benefits specific parts of the body.

They will also be told about the importance of exercise and staying active, and each student who participates will receive links to online activities for further learning.

All the programs will be offered in Spanish as well as English.

Since its founding in 2008, SEEAG has been presenting agriculture appreciation and healthy food programs to youths in Southern and Central California, with more than 60 schools and 8,000 students participating each year.

The organization launched the Ventura County Child Wellness Initiative in 2017, and a survey of kids who completed the program found 93% want to eat healthier, a spokeswoman said.

“We see the impact that the Child Wellness Initiative has had on kids in Ventura County,” said Mary Maranville, founder and chief executive officer of SEEAG. “We plan on replicating the success in Santa Barbara County.”

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