Berkeley soda tax revenue to fund cooking, gardening programs in local schools

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Berkeley Unified School District announced in a newsletter Monday that they are piloting a Health and Wellness Project funded through the Berkeley soda tax.

After Berkeley residents passed the historic tax on sugar-sweetened beverage distribution in 2014, City Council — per the recommendation of the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products Panel of Experts Commission — voted in January to allocate revenue to Berkeley Unified School District cooking, gardening and nutritional education programs as well as grants to other community organizations.

The council allocated $675,000 to the district Gardening and Cooking Program, which will be used to fund the Health and Wellness project. The project consists of school workshops where elementary, middle and high school students can learn how to cook and the values of healthy eating.

Revenue from the soda tax — known alternatively as Measure D — is also funding community-based organizations such as YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention and Reduce Obesity campaigns, and Healthy Black Families Inc, according to Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.

“The prospect of funding coming through Measure D revenue has been long-anticipated and of tremendous relief,” said Berkeley PTA Council President Christine Staples in an email. “Many folks supported Measure D in no small part because of the prospect of the tax money being available for these wellness programs.”

The Gardening and Cooking Program has been around for more than 14 years and educates students about the benefits of healthy eating. When the federal funding to the program was cut in 2013, Berkeley Unified School District students and families suffered a “tremendous blow,” and the PTA units were burdened with the task of fundraising for the program, according to Staples.

The Health and Wellness project will take place at LeConte Elementary School, Thousand Oaks Elementary School, Longfellow Middle School and Berkeley Technology Academy.

“It’s not necessarily a project dictated by the city, but it’s one we’re working on to reach these larger goals,” said district Gardening and Cooking Program Supervisor Jezra Thompson.

Contact Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.