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Captain Planet Foundation helps Learning Gardens grow

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 30, 2014

Guest post by Leesa Carter, Executive Director, Captain Planet Foundation 




Based on the critically-acclaimed animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) was co-founded in 1991 by media mogul Ted Turner and producer Barbara Pyle. Since then, CPF has played a critical role in helping to ensure that the next generation of business leaders and policy makers are environmentally literate citizens who leverage technology and information to manage and protect the air, land and water upon which all life depends.


CPF is a grant-making foundation that has distributed more than $2.5 million to over 1,800 hands-on environmental education projects with schools and youth-serving non-profits in all 50 U.S. states and 23 countries. More than 1 million children have directly participated in and benefited from these educational projects. In addition to its Small Grants Program, the Captain Planet Foundation also operates: Project Learning Garden (PLG), the Leadership Center, SAGES, Planeteer Clubs and a number of other science education initiatives that exploit the intersections between technology, innovation, the environment and personal action. 


In its first 20 years, CPF’s Small Grants Program funded over 750 school or community gardens, outdoor learning labs and pollinator gardens. Captain Planet Foundation’s innovative Project Learning Garden was developed using the best practices and models from those grantees in order to provide schools with strategies for building effective and sustainable garden-based learning programs. The goal of PLG is to: integrate school gardens with core subject lessons; connect gardens to school cafeterias; help students develop an affinity for nature and an early palate for fruits and vegetables; and increase teacher capacity for providing project-based learning for students.

"One key element often overlooked in getting kids to eat better is the importance of how they eat at school," says Kyla Van Deusen, CPF's Project Learning Gardens program manager. "Kids learn how to enjoy fruits, vegetables and salads as a part of lunch, and this program has a direct impact on developing their palates from an early age. That palate development can also have an impact on how their parents eat, home meal preparation and childhood obesity prevention. Parents often report that their children ask them to buy new vegetables at the grocery store after growing and cooking the veggies themselves as part of a school garden program. One five-year-old said she preferred eating raw Brussels sprouts in the garden to her sour gummy worm treat!"

Teachers at CPF Learning Garden schools receive hands-on training, garden-based lessons aligned to national standards, lesson kits filled with supplies, a schoolyard garden, a fully-equipped mobile cooking cart and summer garden management. By the end of 2014, the program will have 135+ PLG schools in public schools around metro-Atlanta and in a pilot program in Ventura County, Calif.

This Fall, FoodCorps came to Georgia and CPF was thrilled to be selected as a service site for four amazing service members: Andrea Blanton, Sarah Dasher, Lauren Ladov and Bang Tran. FoodCorps is providing support to Project Learning Garden schools by doing garden tastings with the mobile cooking cart, supporting teachers as they perform PLG lessons for the first time, working with cafeteria teams to encourage local procurement decisions, and connecting chefs and farmers to schools for future support of the PLG program.

Project Learning Garden lessons are available free and can be downloaded from the CPF website. CPF recently launched a partnership with Pratt Industries that will allow any U.S. elementary school (with an existing garden) to order the classroom lesson supply kits at cost – which is about $400 for 18 lesson kits (3 lessons per grade, K-5). Schools can also order the Project Learning Garden mobile cooking cart at cost (about $725 – shipping included).  

As part of our Farm to School Month sponsorship this year, CPF is donating the full-school lesson supply kits (K-5) and mobile cooking carts to five lucky, winning schools! Find all the contest details here. For more information about PLG or to order kits and carts, visit projectlearninggarden.com.

Educational Support Professionals: Creative Partners in Farm to School

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Guest post by Jonathan Falk, National Education Association, and Simca Horwitz, Massachusetts Farm to School Project 

Nancy Burke (right) and student Taylor Warren (left) in the Haverhill High School garden. (Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Farm to School Project) 

In the US, more than 2 million Education Support Professionals (ESPs) play vital roles in helping create great public schools for our students. Nearly 500,000 of these educators are members of the National Education Association (NEA).  Working as bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, classroom paraeducators, food service staff, and in many other jobs, these essential educators help ensure that children are safe, healthy, well-nourished and well-educated. 

ESPs are committed to their careers, their students and their communities. Seventy-five percent of NEA ESP members live in their school districts, and on average they have worked more than 11 years in their jobs. ESPs interact with student in different places than teachers do – on the school bus, in the cafeteria and at recess  – and they often have multi-year relationships with students and their families and care deeply about their students’ welfare.

All of this makes ESPs tremendous resources for helping to connect students, parents and community allies with farm to school activities.  Yet while thousands of schools across the country are engaged in farm to school work, there are very few places where ESPs are helping to lead these efforts.

The National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), recognized this missed opportunity began a farm to school pilot project in 2012 to develop and support ESP-led farm to school activities. NEA/MTA quickly realized that Massachusetts Farm to School (MFTS), the state lead organization for the National Farm to School Network, could be a key ally, and the organizations began collaborating to engage MTA ESP members in farm to school.

With technical assistance from MFTS and from NEA’s own Health Information Network, MTA’s project has had three principal components:

  1. Providing training and resources to MTA ESP members about student nutrition, farm to school and how they can be involved.
  2. Identifying ESP groups that want to work in their school districts to develop or expand farm to school.
  3. Sponsoring a mini-grant program to support these local programs.

In the 2013-2014 school year, NEA and MFTS identified the Haverhill Education Association as a group to help implement a pilot farm to school grant program. Haverhill is a diverse gateway city in northeastern Massachusetts, and the school district had already engaged in some basic farm to school activities.  

Nancy Burke, an ESP who works as a paraeducator with students with disabilities at Haverhill High School, was inspired to start a school garden after participating in a workshop led by MFTS at Massachusetts Teacher’s Association’s annual ESP Conference. 

"I sat back and said to myself, this would be wonderful for our children, who could be exposed to the garden, grow vegetables and know where their food comes from," Burke explains. "They may never have that experience at home because of their disabilities.”  

With great tenacity, Burke enlisted a local Boy Scout to build a wheelchair-accessible raised bed garden in an under-utilized interior courtyard at Haverhill High School. He also built ramps to make the quad accessible to her students. 

According to Burke, development of the school garden program was a transformative experience. “It empowered me to take on a leadership role, which I've never had before.”

A Haverhill High School students displays a harvest from the school's garden. (Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Farm to School Project.) 

With funds from an NEA/ MTA farm to school mini-grant, Burke and the other ESPs in Haverhill have made additional investments in their school gardens, such as automated watering equipment and small tools. Encouraged by MTA to work collaboratively, teachers and paraeducators at three Haverhill schools are now working together on farm to school, with students at the alternative high school growing seedlings in their large greenhouse for other school gardens in the district.  

"Most of our students come from disadvantaged urban neighborhoods," explains Alternative School teacher Neil Wilkins. "Ninety-five percent of our students receive free or reduced lunch assistance. We hope that providing them access to their own garden from start to finish can be a life-changing experience."

NEA/MTA and MFTS continue to work together, providing training and technical assistance to ESPs throughout the state to help them undertake farm to school projects. We hope to expand the mini-grant program to an additional three districts and watch the role of ESPs in the farm to school movement flourish in Massachusetts. 

For more information about the NEA/MTA farm to school project, or if you are interested in working with ESPs in your community to develop farm to school programs, contact Jonathan Falk at the NEA’s Education Support Personnel Quality Department.

Today is Farmer Resource Day!

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Guest post by Alicia Harvie, Farm Aid

October is National Farm to School Month, a time to honor the fast-growing connections taking root nationwide between schools, family farmers and the good food they produce. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) first ever Farm to School Census revealed exciting growth in these programs sprouting up across the country; there are now farm to school programs in more than 40,000 schools reaching 23.5 million students nationwide.

Today, in partnership with the National Farm to School Network, we celebrate the family farmers across the country who participate in farm to school programs and bring healthy foods to our nation’s students. Farm Aid believes farm to school programs benefit everyone – farmers, schools, students and communities all have something to gain from these unique partnerships. Read on for new ideas and resources to develop farm to school programs in your community.

Ideas for Farmers: Seeding a new partnership

Making an estimated $3 billion in food purchases each year, school districts across the country represent huge potential markets for farmers interested in selling their produce locally. Here are some ways for farmers to get involved in the farm to school movement:

  • Start a dialogue. Identify your school district's food service director and speak with them about their sourcing policies and capacity to buy your products. Be clear about your production capacity, harvest schedule and pricing options.

  • Don’t limit yourself. Let the school know if you have a CSA or sell at local farmers' markets. If there's enough interest, consider adding a CSA pick up location at the school. Advertise your farm at a PTA meeting or introduce yourself on the school's website. These are all great ways to make sure students, parents and school faculty know about you and the wholesome products you raise.

  • Host a farm field trip. Make your farm their classroom! Use field trips as a way to give students hands-on experience in food and farming and a chance to meet their farmer. They'll love it. and the experience will likely spark a deeper interest in food.

  • Explore similar partnerships with colleges, universities, hospitals, and local businesses. Leverage your partnership with one institution to bring your products to another!

For Schools: Bring the farmer forward!

Farm to school programs offer kids much more than access to high quality, nutritious food – many programs integrate farm and food education into the curriculum as well. When you tap into the vast wisdom of family farmers, you can’t help but provide your students with a powerful experience! Consider these ideas:

  • Let students meet your Farmer Heroes! Invite farmers who participate in your school's food programs to speak about what they do or enlist their expertise in getting an edible school garden planted. Give farmers an opportunity to share their knowledge, show where good food comes from and answer students' questions.

  • Visualize the journey from farm to fork, from seed to fruit, or cow to cheese! Post photos from your partner farms in the cafeteria or the classroom and think of creative ways to visually bring what happens on the farm to the student experience.

  • Have farmers craft a farm fresh menu. Working the land, day-in and day-out, farmers are very in tune with the seasons. Invite them to join your team in designing seasonally appropriate menus or offer their favorite recipes for the produce they provide your cafeteria throughout their harvest.

  • Compensate fairly. Farming is an incredibly labor-intensive and time consuming job. Consider thoughtful ways to compensate participating farmers – financially and otherwise – for any extra time they lend in the classroom or on their farms.


Farm Aid Can Help

For more family farmers to thrive, the reach of good food must expand further, including each and every school in the country. Our Farm Aid Resource Network fosters important connections using our online catalog of more than 725 resources and valuable organizations — like the National Farm to School Network — to help you build a strong farm to school program. Explore these selected resources:

  • Community Alliance with Family Farmers has created several resources for farm to school programming, including this great guide for farmer field trips.

  • The fine print and bottom line: Farmer's Legal Action Group (FLAG) offers comprehensive farmer guides to contracting and marketing, including this tip sheet for selling directly to schools.

  • This guide by Vermont Feed includes strategies for marketing local food to schools and offers easy to use, hands-on, farm-based educational activities.

  • The Hayride, an resource for educational farm field trips, was created by Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), located in North Carolina, the host of this year’s Farm Aid benefit concert!   

For more inspiration, we love USDA’s latest promotional video of farm to school programs and how they support family farmers, kids, local economies and communities

Collaboration with a Crunch

NFSN Staff Monday, October 27, 2014


Guest post by Vanessa Herald, University of Wisconsin, Madison - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems

The University of Wisconsin, Madison - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems serves as the Great Lakes Regional Lead for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog post during Farm to School Month. 

By this time in October, most farms and schools in our Great Lakes Region have experiences the first hard frost of the season, if not the first snowfall. We face the challenges of a short growing season every year, but that doesn’t stop local schools, community organizations, non-profits, state and local agencies from establishing incredible farm to school programs. As a region, what could we do to celebrate National Farm to School Month, encourage new schools to connect with local farms to feature a local food item and have fun? Our answer was the first Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch!

As a region, the six states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Indian boast farm to school programs in 6,664 schools, reaching over 3,347,008 students. Our regional apple producers grow at least 320 million pounds of apples for fresh eating. What better to connect our regional growers and students than to encourage everyone to bite into a regional apple at noon on Food Day, October 24! In Michigan alone, last year over 74,000 students and residents participated in the Michigan Apple Crunch sponsored by Cherry Capital Foods, a Michigan-based distributor that works directly and exclusively with farmers, growers and producers from their home state. 

The Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch was a bushel of success. Not only did schools and school districts across the region chomp into apples, so did other farm to school partners like the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and Ohio State University Extension The School Nutrition Association of Michigan even hosted an Apple Crunch Party at their annual conference. 

“The Crunch is a simple and flexible way to get schools excited about celebrating Wisconsin food. Sometimes people feel overwhelmed by how complex farm to school can look, and this is a simple way to celebrate it,” says Sarah Elliott, Wisconsin State Lead based at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. 


And celebrate they did, with over 100 schools participating in the Crunch. This was very apparent in the Janesville School District, which hosted a big Apple Crunch Celebration. Janesville School District is home to 10,000 students in Southern Wisconsin, and has committed to purchasing local foods for this school year. Janesville made the most of their Crunch during lunch period last Friday. A huge, hand-painted farm to school poster accompanied special guests Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel, Janesville School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Schulte, and Representative Amy Loudenbeck, along with hundreds of enthusiastic sixth grade students at Marshall Elementary School. 

At 11:45 they ceremoniously counted down and loudly crunched into local apples from Brightenwoods Orchard. Special guests Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel and Janesville School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Schulte joined the sixth grade class at Marshall Elementary School to ceremoniously count down and crunch into local apples from Brightenwoods Orchard. The event was a celebration of local foods, local farmers and the benefits of fruits and vegetables. Simultaneously, all students in the district were served the same local apples for lunch, along with an October menu full of local food items.

Jim Degan, School Nutrition Manager for Janesville, began planning for the event in September. “Farm to school takes a lot of partnerships and commitment. The goal of the Apple Crunch is to generate some awareness of our farm to school efforts, and the partnerships that make it work.” Degan sees farm to school as a value to local farmers, the local community and students. “The quality and taste of local products is fantastic. You don’t get that taste anywhere else. Sometimes it can be hard to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables, so the good quality and colors of the local products really helps.” This was evident at the Apple Crunch, as student enthusiastically, and loudly, showed their approval for these local apples.

“Folks all across the state are very excited about the Crunch, in part because it’s a collective activity that brings us all together. People felt like they were part of something bigger than just what’s happening in their own school,” commented Elliott. And as students, teachers and community members from across the region bit into their delicious apples last week, we all felt the enthusiasm generated by the simple act of crunching into a local apple.

 

Food Justice in the South

NFSN Staff Friday, October 24, 2014

Guest post by Pam Kingfisher, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group


Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group serves as the South Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 



From the ancient tribal agricultural ways of Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, Natchez and others, the landscape of the South has always been rich in food systems, right along with the racial and economic disparities forced upon the region. The original farm workers were slaves laboring on rich plantations across the south. The tribes accepted runaway slaves into our communities, to grow food and families along with our people. This mutual and violent history has pushed both Native and African Americans from the land. Many of these same systems of racial and economic disparity have played a part in the destruction of small and family farmers and the continued abuse of farm labor and the ecosystem.

 

But, many people and organizations are promoting agricultural and food systems that protect our lands, people, animals and water in order to rebuild healthy communities.

 

Visiting New Orleans over the last few years has provided me with a unique view of “food justice” after Katrina wiped out most of their infrastructure. Community charter schools were some of the first buildings to re-open. The hurricane disaster created a clean slate for community members to establish systems a little differently. At Green Academy the lunchroom has a blue line around it where the high water mark was. This year they are painting over that line as they have healed from that time. The administration built in a kitchen classroom for the students along with “Edible Schoolyards” for outdoor classrooms and growing food. Three of the schools in this system have Edible Schoolyards, each with a unique point of view. At Arthur Ashe I visited with bunnies, chickens and goats, as well as students, throughout the schoolyard. At Langston Hughes they had recently celebrated a sweet potato festival after growing 300 pounds of them. They have a Garden Lab classroom with a full time horticulture teacher to guide these young producers.



Each of these schools were hard to approach – the streets are still a mess of potholes and patches of pavement – but the welcome received from the faculty and students can’t be beat. The students preparing for an Iron Chef contest were so enthusiastic, it was hard to leave before the contest happened! The schools don’t fence the gardens so that everyone feels free to gather food if they need it. There hasn’t been any vandalism at these schools either - the communities treasure these assets and take pride in what they have built.

 

That is food justice to me. When a community can rebuild their schools to include gardens and animals with outdoor classrooms to teach whole children in a whole system.

10,000 Foot View of a Region: What’s Next for the West?

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest post by Stacey Sobell, Ecotrust
Ecotrust serves as the West Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 


Farmers check out processing equipment while visiting Cloud Mountain Farm Center last fall on a mobile tour hosted by the Washington Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program.  

The Western Region is full of pioneers, including in the world of farm to school. The region has been responsible for magnificent innovation: California birthed the National Farm to School Network; the Oregon legislature created a $1.2 million farm to school and school garden grant program; and from Alaska to Montana, Hawaii to Nevada, our region’s schools spend over $87 million on local food each year.

As the Western Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network, we at Ecotrust are lucky to work closely with many of the explorers who have charted this new course for farmers and schools in our region. This year, Ecotrust’s farm to school team is wrapping up a three year project working directly with school districts and farmers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to increase purchases of local foods. The project, funded by Kaiser Permanente, was an opportunity to support creative new ideas to move the dial on farm to school, such as Boat to School and Legislators to the Lunchroom. It was also a unique opportunity for our team to build deeper relationships with school food service directors, farmers and distributors. At the end of our three years, we asked them: Having come this far, what do you need next?

What's next: How do we make farm to school "business as usual?"

This question also reflects a time of introspection for our team. Almost a decade into our work in farm to school, Ecotrust is looking forward to what’s on the horizon for our region. What will it take to make farm to school the new "business as usual" at every school, from Anchorage to Boise to Honolulu? We have a lot of resources in place—state leads who act as networking and resource hubs for each of the eight Western states (we even have a few state farm to preschool leads), state farm to school grant programs in Alaska and Oregon, vibrant statewide networks in Hawaii and California, and a rich partnership with our regional counterpart at the USDA, who makes much of this work possible through technical assistance and financial resources.

And yet, when we asked school districts and farmers in the Willamette Valley what they needed next, the answers were familiar. Small budgets, season limitations, a lack of scratch cooking in school kitchens, and the time-consuming nature of building the relationships vital to the work topped the list of challenges for schools and farmers alike. There are workarounds for each of these obstacles, and they certainly haven’t stopped many school districts and farmers from creating vibrant programs and partnerships. But these ongoing challenges are symptomatic of a more fundamental bottleneck that remains even as we continue to innovate: our region’s hard infrastructure—the kind that supports the aggregation, processing, and distribution of food—isn’t set up for local suppliers to feed local buyers. 

Lacking adequate facilities to process large amounts of fruit in state, Hawaiian pineapple is shipped off island to be sliced and chunked. Pineapple from South America and the Philippines is often found to be more affordable than fruit grown in the US. (Photo courtesy of Jakub Kapusnak, Foodie's Feed)  

No pineapples in Hawaii schools and other infrastructure roadblocks 

Pineapple in school lunches in Hawaii might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not that simple. Dexter Kishida, School Food Service Supervisor at the Hawaii State Department of Education explains that most Hawaiian school kitchens don’t have capacity to deal with the whole fruit and that the state lacks local processing capacity at a scale to meet school district needs. The fruit must be shipped off island to be processed into slices and chunks and then sent back (with a resulting impact on cost and affordability for schools). And Dexter notes that this often means that pineapple from South America and the Philippines is more affordable than fruit grown in their own state. Mardi Solomon of Whatcom County Farm to School relates how students in Washington State are served "baby" shaved carrots from California rather than those grown locally, since school food service programs cannot afford to pay staff for the time it takes to cut whole carrots into sticks. These are just two examples of how the system through which schools, hospitals and college campuses buy their food in the West isn’t yet conducive to our vision of a resilient, regionally-based food system.

We’ve still made significant progress over the past ten years and there are exciting and innovative solutions on the horizon: In Hawaii, Dexter tells the story of a small grower who is setting up a flash freezing facility with the potential to serve the school district’s needs. The facility will process the second and third harvests of pineapples to help provide a product that is more affordable for schools. In Whatcom County, a new local vegetable processing facility at Cloud Mountain Farm Center is one effort to try to fill the infrastructure gap in Washington by processing local carrots and other veggies into the forms that schools need. 

It’s clear that school districts and farmers value each other and want to work together, and many of them know how to overcome common challenges to make these relationships work. Now it’s time to rebuild the infrastructure that underlies this work – to shift the entire system so that farm to school and local food procurement isn’t just feasible for those who are deeply committed. 

Focusing our collective attention on improving the methods through which buyers access local food—the aggregation, processing and distribution that make this procurement possible—is the challenge of the next decade, and has the potential to transform farm to school into the new business as usual. It’s a monumental task, but we’re pioneers, and we’re heading for that horizon.


Charting the Transformation of New Orleans Greenest Schools

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Guest post by Emily Olsen-Harbich, Center for Green Schools


The USGBC Louisiana Chapter supports sustainable school initiatives in the city. 

Sustainability professionals from around the world gather in New Orleans this week as the annual Greenbuild Conference and Expo kicks off on October 22nd. Industry leaders, scientific experts and passionate volunteers are here for three exhilarating days of uplifting speakers, showcases, LEED workshops and tours of green buildings in New Orleans. Perhaps most of all, this event offers a place for thousands to gather and renew their commitment to the green movement.

In the spirit of the week, the Center for Green Schools and the local USGBC Chapter in Louisiana will host several events celebrating the transformation of New Orleans schools into more sustainable and healthier places for students to learn and grow. The Center for Green Schools was established to drive exactly these types of initiatives, as we believe that everyone, from the kindergartner entering the classroom to the Ph.D. student performing research in a lab, should have the ability to learn in green buildings. The Center works directly with teachers, students, administrators, elected officials and communities to create programs, resources and partnerships that transform all schools into healthy learning environments.

Thanks to programming through the Edible Schoolyard initiative, volunteers from the Green Building Certification Institute and members of the Center team will get their hands dirty in one of the thriving Edible Schoolyard gardens in New Orleans. The volunteers will be working at John Dibert Community School at Wheatley, where children and families are learning how to best grow their own food. Students in schools around the city will also learn more about green building and the benefits of their own sustainable schools during visits from the Center team. 

One school the Center team will visit already knows all about sustainability. A recent winner of USGBC Louisiana’s “Green Schools Challenge”, Ben Franklin High School will host the New Orleans Green Schools Celebration during the Greenbuild Conference. By establishing a team of student leaders, known as the “Green Society Club,” the school has inspired a school-wide greening effort. Members of the Green Society and students from the A.P. Biology classes worked with an electrical engineer to conduct an energy audit then used the data to create a Lighting and Facilities Phasing Plan. Because of the students’ work, the administration has signed an agreement to buy Renewable Energy Certificates, committed to buying UV lights to reduce energy consumption, and made a plan to invest in solar panels in the fall. The Green Society was also instrumental in the planning of a Diversity Garden on the property. This space will provide an opportunity for outdoor learning and increase local biodiversity by providing habitat for pollinators and birds.

Celebrating Greenbuild in New Orleans this year will not only generate momentum around the green building movement as a whole, but will shine light on collaborative programs like the Louisiana Green Schools Challenge that are springing up all across the city. In an area not always associated with transformation and possibility, the Center for Green Schools is thrilled to acknowledge these thriving community movements towards a more sustainable future in New Orleans.


Growing the Next Generation of Food Lovers

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Guest post by Andrew Nowak, Director of Slow Food USA’s National School Garden Program    

A celebration of Farm to School Month would not be complete without children enjoying the fruits (and vegetables!) of their labor in school gardens.

Through the efforts of 150+ local Slow Food USA chapters and thousands of volunteers around the country, school children are getting hands-on experiences in more than just growing and harvesting food. They are learning about preparing, cooking and sharing the “good, clean and fair” bounty from their gardens. 

Our gardening and cooking classes are helping to equip a new generation of eaters with the skills and knowledge to make healthy food choices for greater success in the classroom and in life. Students learn about the role they play in the larger food system of their community and the impact that fresh food can have on the lives of their family and friends.

Information about Slow Food USA's National School Garden Program has been collected on a new website that features resources (everything from garden design through evaluation) as well as information about the many successful garden projects organized by Slow Food USA chapters across the country. Here are just a few of their success stories: 

In Temecula Valley, CA, Slow Food USA volunteers do cooking classes with students to prepare a cultural dish from the fresh produce. Through experiences like this, the students are learning how to handle fresh food so that they can feed themselves, while enjoying deliciously diverse foods with their friends. With these skills, a child does not need to be dependent on anyone else for a snack or even a simple meal, and starts to ask important questions about the “good” aspects of the food they are consuming.

In Long Island, NY, Slow Food East End supports school garden programs that supply school cafeterias with fresh produce for the lunchtime salad bar. These “Garden to Cafeteria” programs teach children how to grow and harvest “clean,” fresh food that is safe to use in school lunches. In some cases, the students participate in the procurement process by handling invoices and selling the fresh produce to the food service operation, which raises money to support their garden program. Students learn how to participate in the food supply chain and begin to understand the complexities of the large-scale food system. 

Students in Colorado, as part of Slow Food Denver’s “Seed-To-Table” program, use the garden produce to set up Youth Farmers Markets on school grounds.  Often situated in declared food deserts, these markets allow children to sell fresh fruits and vegetables to the surrounding community. The students handle all aspects of the markets, including promotion, harvesting, sales and cleanup.  Each week, they see some of the same people returning to the market for the fresh produce, and begin to appreciate the value that the community places on healthy food. 

Collaboration between Slow Food Charlotte (NC) and Friendship Gardens gives school gardens the opportunity to supply fresh produce to the local “Meals-on-Wheels” program.  Their fruits and vegetables are used in the daily preparation of healthy meals for homebound ill and low-income households. This teaches children about the issues of hunger and food justice in their local community, reinforcing the value of “fair” access to fresh food for all.

Every October, as we gather to celebrate Farm to School Month, it is encouraging to see the tremendous progress in the transformation of school food culture.  We are seeing great progress from the activities in school gardens and classrooms to include fresh, local food in the cafeterias – and, especially, to establish relationships between the local producers and the school community. 

At the heart of all of these programs is the involvement of the children as active participants in the food systems that bring nourishing food to their lunch trays and to their dinner plates at home.  Slow Food USA, our chapters, and thousands of dedicated volunteers believe that kids who know and value where food comes from will become the next generation of advocates for good, clean and fair food for all. And that it all starts in the school garden.

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