Advocates for healthier school lunches dined Monday on organic goat meat tacos, vegetarian tamales and home grown vegetable dishes as they gathered in a Santa Rosa community garden to write letters to Congress and sign petitions.

The aim of more than 300 such ?eat-ins? across the nation is to boost federal funding for the National School Lunch Program so school districts can buy locally produced food.

Getting more natural, less fatty food into school lunches makes for healthier children whose families may not have the incomes to buy often more expensive fresh, local food, said Maria Echaveste, with Roots of Change, a California group seeking more sustainable food systems.

?If that school lunch is not a healthy lunch, we?re not helping them for the long term. Access to healthy food is a social justice issue. It should not just be a privilege,? said Echaveste, a Berkeley resident and former deputy chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.

More than 200 people turned out to eat dinner on hay bales at Bayer Farm Neighborhood Park and Garden in the Roseland area of Santa Rosa, one of seven ?eat-ins? held in Sonoma County. Another was held in Mendocino County.

Slow Food USA put on the events as part of its effort to connect people with their food and the people who grow it. LandPaths, a Sonoma County nonprofit agency, also organized the Santa Rosa dinner as steward of Bayer Farm.

?The act of growing and preparing food together is actually the most tangible relationship we can have with the land,? said Craig Anderson, LandPaths executive director.

Bayer Farm, started two years ago on six acres owned by the city of Santa Rosa, features a community garden where dozens of families raise produce in the midst of the city. Students from elementary schools also work in the garden, learning how to raise and prepare their own food.

In a county home to large-scale natural food companies, the garden reflects public awareness for the value of locally grown food. School lunches should emphasize locally grown foods as a way to help reverse the trend of increasingly overweight or obese children, said Michael Dimock, who is with Roots of Change and a founder of the Slow Food Russian River chapter.

?The growers are here. The challenge is how do you get the purchasing system to connect with the growers,? he said.

Increasing federal funding of school lunches by $1 would allow schools to buy local food, which typically is more expensive than the mass-produced lunches often served in schools, he said.

?It?s a way to do two things at once, improve the health of children locally and support the small and medium-sized producers farming sustainably,? he said.