School Food FOCUS kicks off innovative Regional Learning Lab with a generous grant from the Kresge Foundation to accelerate school food change

July 26, 2011

Contact: Meredith Modzelewski
Communications Associate
(646) 619-6449

NEW YORK, New York — In the current political climate fraught with concerns over the looming budget crisis, it seems everyone is looking for ways to save money. Some farmers even say that the time has come for them to learn to live without subsidies. If direct farm payments are removed from the next Farm Bill, the market may be altered, leading more Americans to turn to regional, sustainable food systems to support their needs within budget. Beyond that, new federal guidelines for school meals have called for more varieties of whole and minimally processed fruits and vegetables, lower sodium and fat, and more whole grains, and encourage districts to engage in farm to school programs — all of which many believe could lead to higher costs for schools.

School Food FOCUS has been a leader in school food change in this direction since 2008 and, with generous start-up funding and ongoing support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is steering institutional procurement nationally to become more healthful, regionally sourced, and sustainably produced — in ways that schools can afford.

What’s next?

To take this transformational work a step further, FOCUS is excited to announce that it has received a $600,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation. This represents an initial contribution toward the Regional Learning Lab, a new project emerging from the tangible successes of FOCUS’ signature School Food Learning Lab.

The School Food Learning Lab, which until now has been conducted district by district, engages large school districts to redirect procurement practices toward more wholesome food. The Lab connects school food service professionals and their district partners with research and technical support, enabling them to develop specific procurement change priorities – the foods they wish to transform — and create real and sustainable change.

The Learning Lab came first to Saint Paul, then to Denver, and is currently in Chicago, and has led to big changes in each district along the way. However, for the benefit of our nation’s children, FOCUS is thinking bigger.

The right time to go regional

“The time is right to take our work to the next level: building a Regional Learning Lab to leverage the buying power of multiple large school districts in the Upper Midwest to benefit all districts in this seven-state region,” said Toni Liquori, Executive Director and Founder of School Food FOCUS, a program of Public Health Solutions. “A much greater number of students will benefit from procurement change within this regional structure.”

Indeed, there are approximately nine million public school students in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin — and the Learning Lab’s model of change will be accelerated as these districts design ways to leverage their combined buying power to change the food system to bring more healthful, sustainable food choices to students across the region. “We’re eager to get moving on the Regional Learning Lab,” said Kymm Mutch, Director of School Nutrition Services at Milwaukee Public Schools, a FOCUS district. “We look forward to collaborating on such innovative and valuable work.”

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kresge Foundation have long been concerned with fostering healthy communities and improving environmental and social conditions affecting low-income and vulnerable populations. FOCUS’ Regional Learning Lab will advance this aim through its leadership in school food change and sustainable, regional institutional procurement.

About School Food FOCUS

School Food FOCUS is a national collaborative that leverages the knowledge and procurement power of large school districts (over 40,000 students) to make school meals more healthful, regionally sourced, and sustainably produced. Launched in 2008, FOCUS aims to transform food systems to support students’ academic achievement and lifelong health, while directly benefiting farmers, regional economies, and the environment. School Food FOCUS is a program of Public Health Solutions and is supported by generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the New York City Department of Health, and a growing number of sponsors, individuals, and private funders. For more information, please visit

About Public Health Solutions

Public Health Solutions is a nonprofit organization that develops, implements, and advocates dynamic solutions to prevent disease and improve community health. We conduct comprehensive research providing insight on public health issues, create and manage community health programs, and provide services to organizations to address public health challenges. Programs of Public Health Solutions address critical public health needs such as maternal and child health, nutrition, access to health insurance, HIV prevention and care, and smoking cessation. Public Health Solutions, formerly known as Medical and Health Research Association or MHRA, has served New York City since 1957. Please visit for more information.

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Established in 1930, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society. Grants are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and southern Africa.

About the Kresge Foundation

The Kresge Foundation is a national, private foundation that seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations by creating access and opportunity in underserved communities, improving the health of low-income people, supporting artistic expression, assisting in the revitalization of Detroit, and advancing methods for dealing with global climate change.


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