We had the good fortune of connecting with Janelle Manzano and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Janelle, what’s the end goal, career-wise?
This is almost the perfect question as I prepare to graduate with my Master’s in Public Health from UCSD this spring and step into the journey of shaping my career… The two realms I want my future career path to take me are at the intersection between child nutrition and sustainable food systems. For the past 3 years, I have been working with San Diego Unified as the Farm to School Program Specialist. And in this role I have had the opportunity to see how different stakeholders play a role in child nutrition services. The Farm to School movement creates an additional layer that incorporates the support of local farmers, growth of school gardens, enhanced nutrition education, and finally – fresher, healthier, tastier meals for students. Farm to School has inspired me in so many ways in how I want to shape my career. I hope my career will alleviate the stress our current food system model has on the environment while shaping a more sustainable one – one that provides good food to all while giving back to the Earth and farmers that grew it for us. This may be through continued work in Farm to School, youth advocacy, research, community engagement, or more. To close off, here’s a quote that I always like to think back to… “…to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived. That is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
It started with a garden internship in college, where I helped lead K-12 field trips in one of UC Davis’s educational gardens. I was studying Clinical Nutrition at the time, planning to become a dietician, but there was something about being in the garden that inspired me into a different direction. Thus, after graduation I joined FoodCorps, an AmeriCorps program that focuses on nutrition and school garden education. I did one service year of being an educator in Oakland, CA. Through another FoodCorps alum, I found out about the position with San Diego Unified, which is how I became fully immersed in the inner workings of school food services and Farm to School. Now I am balancing this role with graduate school, with the goal to interconnect Farm to School through the lens of public health. Farm to School encompasses three things: buying locally, nutrition education and school gardens. I believe Farm to School is the future of school food services. More and more school districts are becoming aware of the importance of feeding our students quality food. This includes buying produce from local farmers and incorporating more scratch cooked recipes on our menus. Beyond that, school gardens and nutrition education allow students to learn where their food comes from and how it helps them stay healthy. Because while Food Services can cook and serve all this local food for our students, it means nothing if they aren’t eating it. This is one of the many challenges for School Food Services – reversing the stigma around school food. Students, parents, and even teachers aren’t fully aware of the changes and efforts being made in the cafeteria around Farm to School. That is why something I am most proud of, is being able to teach hundreds of students about nutrition and food systems through my classes and assemblies. I get to tell them why eating locally is important and how food heals our bodies – all while connecting back to the food they’ll see in the cafeteria. I’ve enjoyed the numerous times of holding taste tests of a new fruit, vegetable, or dish from the cafeteria and seeing how students react to it. It’s extremely rewarding! In addition, I’ve been having more conversations with students around food and climate change. This is something I’m especially excited about, being that there’s been such a heightened youth movement and activism for climate change! Lastly, if there is something that I want the world to know – in the context of my work – is that participating in school meals helps feed and provide quality food to EVERYONE in a community. For Food Services, meal participation is how we get funding through federal reimbursement. This is how we are able to purchase local and organic foods, train our team to incorporate more scratch cooked meals and even climate friendly recipes into our program. It truly takes a community to feed a community. We just have to be brave enough to taste new things! Learn more about Farm to School through this informative video by SD County’s Farm to School Collective: https://youtu.be/jCXKEN_nfto
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Haha, I just finished making an itinerary for whenever my parents come visit (once it’s safe to do so!!) Let’s start in the morning. First we’d grab coffee and small breakfast at one of my favorites – Bay Park Coffee. Then’d we’d hop on some bikes and ride around the bay. They just finished putting down fresh concrete for a beautiful bike/walk area near Seaworld Drive. We’d venture down to Ocean Beach and Sunset Cliffs. There’s a great deli called Olivetree Market for some tasty sandwiches and a great local brew selection. Another day would consist of a morning hike either in the Mission Trails or Torrey Pines areas. Afterwards, we’d go get quintessential burritos: either a breakfast burrito or a California burrito. (But personally I enjoy veggie burritos!!). I don’t really have a favorite burrito place – But I’ve been on a mission to try every veggie burrito in SD. Other favorite eateries include Sicilian Pizza and Bahn Thai. Finally one of my favorites that would be a day trip out to Joshua Tree or Anza Borrego. I love going camping out there!! Every day would probably end with desert at my favorite gelato place – An’s Dry Cleaning in North Park. (I always have a pint waiting for me at home, so even after Jtree or Anza we’d be set.)
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The whole San Diego Unified Food Services Team: For showing up and serving food to our students throughout 2020 during the school closures. We will reach about 11 million meals come March 2021, after a full year of serving curbside meals. Proud to be on this awesome team!!

Instagram: @sdfarmtoschool

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/janelle-manzano-40887413a

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SDFarmtoSchool/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tmxkzE3Pf0

Other: https://youtu.be/jCXKEN_nfto (Courtesy of the Farm to School Collective – https://www.farmtoschoolcollective.org/)

Image Credits
Robin Carby, P.E Teacher at Ocean Beach Elementary & photographer SD Farm to School Collective

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutSocal is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.