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Connecting to Cherokee culture with farm to school

NFSN Staff Friday, January 08, 2016
By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate
 Garden signs at Cherokee Central Schools. (Credit: Cherokee Central Schools)

From school gardens and farm visits, to Harvest of the Month initiatives and local food taste tests, farm to school activities are adaptable to every educational setting. That’s what makes farm to school exciting – the opportunities are endless! 

In Western North Carolina, Cherokee Central Schools use farm to school practices to engage students in healthy eating while connecting them to Native culture. Serving 1,250 elementary, middle and high school students from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, the school district integrates Cherokee culture into all aspect of learning – and the cafeteria is no exception. 

For several years, Janette Broda, the district’s Child Nutrition Director, has worked to include locally grown foods in school meals. With the addition of two FoodCorps service members and a USDA Farm to School Grant in 2014, the district expanded their farm to school activities. Local foods like apples, cabbage and romaine lettuce have become staples on the lunch menu, the campus’s nine raised garden beds have been expanded to 22, and a campus greenhouse hydroponic system has been added.  

With support from the National Farm to School Network, Broda and FoodCorps service members Katie Rainwater and Alison Villa have further connected students to their Native heritage through farm to school activities. In the garden, they’ve planted traditional Cherokee crops with edible, medicinal and craft uses, like corn varieties with hard seeds that can be used for making jewelry. Many of the heirloom crops grown in the garden came from seeds handed down by generations of local Cherokee farmers, which students have marked with colorful signs that label the plants in both Cherokee and English.  

 Students create garden signs and posters. (Credit: Cherokee Central Schools)
In the cafeteria, the team coordinated with the middle school art class to create a mural that depicts the four seasons and highlights traditional Cherokee foods. They’ve also purchased posters featuring seasonal produce labeled in Cherokee and English to be featured in all three school cafeterias. 

For the classroom, a farm to school resource library has been developed for teachers. The library includes nutrition education materials, study guides and resources to help create comprehensive lesson plans that integrate farm to school principles into classroom curriculum. For example, the 5th grade science class recently conducted a compost trail test to project how much their landfill waste could be reduced by composting cafeteria food scraps. 

Two newly purchased mobile kitchens with induction stoves, blenders and cooking tools are also getting good use. Katie and Allison move these pop-up cooking stations between classrooms and the school greenhouse, where students learn to transform freshly harvested vegetables into delicious snacks, like salads, pesto and smoothies. The team is now developing a food safety plan and working towards GAP certification so garden produce can be harvested and served directly in school meals. 

At Cherokee Central Schools, farm to school not only get kids excited about fresh, healthy food, but creatively connects students to their Native heritage. From the school garden to art class, and the cafeteria to science lessons, these farm to school activities are planting the seeds of a vibrant, healthy future.