Guest post by Wendy Allen, Organic Valley
We at Organic Valley have always believed that farm to school programs are vital to the health of our children as well as to our communities. Farm to school lets students learn creatively, physically, personally. It’s hands-on and fun, and these two qualities almost always guarantee a great learning experience for kids and adults. And it’s even better when the experiences also support local family farms and economies. Here are the stories of two schools (and two farmers) who are making a difference:
The Harvest Challenge
Organic Valley is a cooperative of member-farms located all across the country, and many of the communities in which our farmers live also have farm to school programs. One program located near our headquarters in southwestern Wisconsin is Vernon County Farm to School. Even though this is a rural area, many of the students here had never seen, let alone grown, vegetables like garlic and eggplant. Vernon County Farm to School also organizes an after-school gardening opportunity, teaches nutrition education, runs a Harvest of the Month program, and—
the highlight of the year—hosts a Harvest Challenge.
Created as a fundraiser for Vernon County Farm to School, the Harvest Challenge matches teams of high school students with school staff mentors and local chef mentors. The teams and their mentors must create recipes that use local, seasonal foods; cost less than $1 per serving; and meet all school nutrition requirements. Oh, and of course the recipes have to taste good, too! If the recipes meet all the requirements, then they can be used in the Vernon County Schools’ lunch menus.
After the judging—which rates the recipes on presentation, use of local food, knowledge of school nutrition requirements, taste and aesthetics—the teams are then truly put to the test: They prepare their recipe for about 300 community members, who then vote on their favorites.
“We are really able to reach out to the high school students in our county with the Harvest Challenge,” says Ashlee Gabrielson, outreach coordinator for Vernon County Farm to School. “They are not only able to connect with a staff member but also a local chef who has volunteered to help their team out. This really connects our communities to our schools and gives them support. Also, students really learn an appreciation for their food service staff and how challenging and how much work it is to make these meals on a budget and at the quantity they make them.”
Susan Hardy and her husband, David, walk the pastures of their organic family farm in New York State. (Photo by David Nevala for Organic Valley)
Farmers visit the big city
Many Organic Valley farmers enjoy visiting local schools to talk about organic farming with the students. David and Susan Hardy and Maureen Knapp, organic farmers in New York State, travel into New York City to visit Public School 41 (PS41) a couple times a year. Coming with them to the classroom are jars of organic cream that will be shaken into butter by little hands and sometimes the peeping of fluffy chicks, which the kids hold in their hands with wide-eyed wonder. These visits connect students to farm life and give them food and farm experiences they would never get otherwise. Our farmers may be too humble to brag, but these personal visits make such an impact on young minds. We are proud to brag on their behalf.
We believe family farming is the key to healthy food systems, healthy communities and healthy children. Not only are organic family farmers growing food for us, but they are being good stewards of the land by reducing their impact on it and passing on important knowledge to our children, who most certainly will be the next generation of responsible, conscious eaters, and who just might be the next generation of farmers to care for the land that feeds us all.