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Honoring America’s Farmers

NFSN Staff Friday, October 11, 2019


The blog is sponsored by CoBank, who shares the National Farm to School Network's mission of growing farm to school to support farmers and vibrant rural communities. We thank CoBank for being a sponsor of our 2019 National Farm to School Month Celebrations.

Guest blog by CoBank

In recognition of National Farmer’s Day, CoBank honors America’s farmers and ranchers who toil each day to produce the food, fuel and fiber on which we all rely. Through our funding relationship with 21 local and regional Farm Credit associations, we support 70,000 producers with the essential financing they need, and also provide direct financing to thousands of farmer-owned cooperatives and agribusinesses.

CoBank appreciates the dedication, expertise and hard work it takes to raise crops and tend livestock. Only 2 million farmers and ranchers produce all of America’s food – that’s less than 1.5% of our population responsible for feeding 3.9 billion people, plus others around the world.  From nuts and produce, to grains and meats, to dairy, eggs and wine, U.S. production is a cornucopia of safe, affordable food, as well as cotton, timber and biofuels – and nearly 96 percent of the farms producing this plethora of agricultural products are family owned, often passed down through generations. 

The production these farmers achieve using both modern and traditional techniques and equipment forms a significant portion of the nation’s economy: in 2017, America’s farms contributed $132.8 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product; including related industries that rely on our farms’ output, agriculture, food and related industries contributed $1.053 trillion, or 5.4 percent, to our GDP.  

That value stems directly from the hard work of our farmers, who are up before dawn and working long past dusk, seven days a week. On this National Farmer’s Day, and every day, CoBank thanks American agricultural producers for their dedication to their mission to feed, clothe and fuel our population, as we continue to deliver on our mission to support agriculture and rural communities with the essential financing they need to thrive.

Reflections from the Road: Conference on Native American Nutrition

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 09, 2019
By Mackenize Martinez, Partnership Communications Intern

As the Intertribal Agriculture Council Partnership Communications Intern working with National Farm to School Network, I recently had the opportunity to attend and present at the Fourth Annual Conference on Native American Nutrition in Mystic Lake, Minnesota. This is the only conference series in the world devoted to the food and nutrition of Indigenous Peoples. It brings together tribal officials, researchers, practitioners, funders and others to discuss the current state of Indigenous and academic scientific knowledge about Native nutrition, dietary health, and food science, and identify new areas of work. My role in helping co-lead a break out session titled “Farm to School as a Strategy for Advancing Food Sovereignty in Native Communities” with Alena Paisano, NFSN Program Manager,  was certainly a profound learning and networking experience. 

Our session focused on the ways that farm to school can be used as a strategy to decolonize our food system and take back our food sovereignty in Native communities. A key portion of our presentation also shared about the partnership between the National Farm to School Network and the Intertribal Agriculture Council that is helping to advance this work. In addition, NFSN’s recent Seed Change in Native Communities project was also discussed and these successes - which ranged all across Indian Country - were highlighted for audiences to view. In particular, we engaged with audience members from the Mala`ai Kula: Kaua`i Farm-to-School Pilot who participated in Seed Change to support an existing three-year pilot project to create a culturally relevant farm to school program at two Kaua`i schools. On Kaua`i, where 90 percent of food is imported, Mala`ai Kula helped students build a healthier relationship with traditional food systems through school gardens and locally-grown foods in school meals. I enjoyed seeing everyone come together in this space and share their farm to school experiences and knowledge.


Culturally relevant meals served at Kaua`i schools as part of the Mala`ai Kula: Kaua`i Farm-to-School Pilot. 
As a representative on the Native Youth Food Sovereignty Alliance, the national executive board for the Intertribal Agriculture Youth Network, I was very much able to take a first-hand look into the concept of farm to school as a strategy for advancing food sovereignty in Native communities. In order to see how this national partnership is contributing to success in Native communities, it was imperative for me to establish a personal connection and to pinpoint how my passions align in this particular space. Naturally, as I presented to the breakout session, I expressed that my personal connection with farm to school stems from involvement in Intertribal Agriculture Council youth programming. These particular programs are so vital to Native youth because of the emphasis that is placed on developing qualities of leadership, building knowledge of traditional agricultural practices, and being equipped with the skills to take initiative for change back to our communities. While I attended the gathering to help educate others on this, I unequivocally gained a better understanding of how interconnected the roles of National Farm to School Network and Intertribal Agriculture Council are in serving youth through the many forms that farm to school takes. While I have been exposed to the idea of food sovereignty for a few years now, attending this conference gave me a refreshed look into the current efforts of this movement and how essential it is that traditional foods are implemented in school systems serving Native populations. The breakout session that Alena and I led was an effective way to get that particular conversation started.

In addition to helping facilitate our farm to school presentation, I experienced this conference as a first-time attendee. I am still in awe of the energy that this diverse group of individuals carried as we sat in general sessions. Some of my favorite moments from this conference included the keynote speech from Peggy Flanagan, Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota. Hearing from one of the highest-ranking Native American women in history was certainly empowering and hopeful. Lieutenant Governor Flanagan spoke of firsthand childhood experiences that included being a recipient of commodity foods and understanding the reality that individuals in these types of nutrition assistance programs face. Knowing that Native communities have her support in moving forward in the reach for food sovereignty is certainly exciting and opens an even wider expanse of opportunities for youth in farm to school.

In addition, through the keynote presentation of Sean Sherman, founder of The Sioux Chef, I learned a lot about the dynamics of Indigenous food systems and actions being taken to revitalize traditional diets on a larger scale. Farm to school is an approach that can help make this type of food revitalization more accessible to Native children because of the direct role that it plays in a child’s wellbeing and everyday life. Schools are institutions that serve as the foundation of a child’s knowledge, and that knowledge shouldn’t stop in the classroom. It should be carried into the cafeteria, as well. Mr. Sherman’s keynote presentation reminded us that in order to take back our food systems and revitalize those traditional diets, we first need to understand them. Farm to school is a way to bridge that gap between the classroom to the cafeteria and help establish traditional knowledge of food and nutrition at earlier ages. In addition, as a tribal member not currently residing on ancestral land, I enjoyed the discussions on access to traditional foods as an urban Native.

As an intern and someone pursuing post-secondary education in the agricultural science field, this conference was a definite experience of growth in knowledge, character, and leadership. I am looking forward to using this event as a milestone to look back on as my time working between the National Farm to School Network and Intertribal Agriculture Council Partnership continues. 

4 Steps to Host a Winning Farm to School Event with Highbush Blueberries

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Guest post by the US Highbush Blueberry Council

Fresh or frozen highbush blueberries aren’t just a nutritious and delicious menu staple beloved by students – they’re also a bite-sized bit of bluetiful inspiration for your next farm to school event. Whether you’re thinking of hosting a promotion for National Farm to School Month or are looking for year-round inspiration, these little blue dynamos are a cafeteria favorite, perfect for your next nutrition event. Here are four easy steps to get you started:

1. Get Inspired
Wondering where to start when planning a farm to school event? Draw inspiration from these K-12 case studies featuring three districts that have hosted successful promotions by celebrating fresh and frozen highbush blueberries all year-round:

  • Carrollton City School District, Georgia – Hosted a “Highbush Blueberry Bonanza Week” complete with a blueberry-themed food truck, nutrition education sessions and a highbush blueberry cooking class. The results: An 11% increase in lunch participation at junior high school; and 5% average increase in breakfast participation across elementary, middle and high school.
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, North Carolina – Hosted a “Highbush Blueberry Day” to bring highbush blueberry education to the classroom, followed by student taste test of a new menu item: Highbush Blueberry Breakfast Bark. The results: 85% of students voted that the recipe was “yummy!”
  • Sebree Elementary School, Kentucky – During last year’s National Farm to School Month, in partnership with NFSN and USHBC, Webster County Schools won a sweepstakes for a “Build-Your-Own Highbush Blueberry Day.” This was extended to a full week of highbush blueberry fun, including a blueberry nutrition education session, a blueberry-themed art contest and blueberry taste tests for two recipes: a Blueberry Smoothie and a Blueberry Salad with Blueberry Vinaigrette. The results: a 12% increase in breakfast participation that week. 


2. Learn from Others
It comes as no surprise that pulling off successful promotions like the ones above are a lot of fun, and a lot of work. Luckily, you can hear from three rockstar school nutrition pros directly in National Farm to School Network’s latest recorded webinar: Bring Farm to School to Life with Highbush Blueberries. The expert panel shared actionable advice on bringing a farm to school promotion to life, with some tips and tricks for planning and execution to make nutrition (and blueberries!) fun for all. 

3. Download the Playbook
Now feeling ready to take on an event of your own? Download the Highbush Blueberry Farm to School Playbook, your go-to digital resource to inspire your staff, excite your students, and celebrate with your community. The playbook is packed with menu inspiration, virtual farm tours, nutrition guides, kid-friendly activities and more – everything you need to bring highbush blueberries and nutrition to your students in a fun and engaging way. Plus, it’s free to view, download and print from home! 

4. Have Fun
Lastly, and most importantly, have FUN! These events are a fantastic way to engage with students and make them feel involved in their nutrition choices – in a way that’s approachable, memorable and interactive. Incorporate activities and games into your promotion to add an exciting element that will bring a smile to students and staff alike. These fun memories will incite future passions for healthy eating!

Don’t miss out on all the highbush blueberry fun this National Farm to School Month! With these easy steps, you’re ready to celebrate nutrition and serve up a smile with your students. For more positively bluetiful news, kid-friendly ideas and yummy menu inspiration, visit BlueberriesInSchools.com.

31 Day, 31 Ways To Celebrate Farm to School

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 01, 2019

By Anna Mullen, Communications Manager

The very best month of the farm to school-year is finally here! Let us be the first to wish you a very happy National Farm to School Month

National Farm to School Network advocated for the creation of National Farm to School Month by Congress in 2010 (House Resolution 1655) and since then, the yearly October festivities have brought together thousands of students, teachers, parents, farmers, food advocates, school lunch professionals, and community members from a wide range of sectors to raise awareness of the important role of farm to school in improving child nutrition, supporting local economies, and building vibrant communities. This National Farm to School Month, join the celebration of food education, school gardens, and lunch trays filled with healthy, local ingredients. 

With 31 days to celebrate, here are 31 ways to dig in

1. Become a member of the National Farm to School Network – it’s free! 
2. Explore our free resources for planning and promoting farm to school this month. 
3. See what celebrations are happening in your community and join in the fun.  
4. Sign up your organization to be a National Farm to School Month Outreach Partner
5. Donate to support the National Farm to School Network and help us bring farm to school to communities across the country every month. 
6. Share how your celebrating by using the hashtags #F2SMonth and #farmtoschool on social media. 
7. Follow the National Farm to School Network on social media - we're at @FarmtoSchool
8. Stay up to date on all things farm to school and farm to ECE by signing up for our e-newsletter
9. Learn about the benefits of farm to school
10. Endorse the Farm to School Act of 2019 and the Kids Eat Local Act to continue growing farm to school efforts through federal policy. 
11. Find out if your state has a farm to school / farm to ECE network. If yes, connect with them!
12. Eat in the cafeteria with students. 
13. Conduct a taste test of a new food. 
14. Visit a farm, orchard or pumpkin patch. 
15. Invite a farmer to visit your classroom. 
16. Take students on a tour of their school kitchen. 
17. Turn your thumbs green – whether in a raised bed, community garden plot, hydroponic garden or other plant growing space. 
18. Ask students and families to share their family food traditions and favorite recipes to create a class cookbook. 
19. Read a book together about food, farming or cooking. 
20. Visit a farmers market and say “Thank You!” to the growers who've produced your food.
21. Cook and enjoy a family meal together, incorporating local foods. 
22. Use arts and crafts such as coloring, painting, cutting and pasting or other creative projects to reinforce excitement for fruits and vegetables. 
23. Get moving with physical activity games. Try a relay race to collect fruits and vegetables and sort them by plant family or by color. 
24. Consider new recipes that are culturally appropriate and relevant to your community. 
25. Be brave a try a new food.
26. Celebrate school nutrition professionals by telling them "Thank You!" every day.
27. Take time to be mindful - a garden is a great place to do this. Use all five of your senses to enjoy the natural world around you. 
28. Organize a site visit for your policymakers to see farm to school in action. 
29. Make a bulletin board celebrating farmers and local food. 
30. Volunteer to serve on a school garden committee, district wellness committee, or another group that champions farm to school. 
31. Find even MORE ways to celebrate in our National Farm to School Month Celebration Toolkit

Farm to school is a grassroots movement powered by people like you taking small actions every day to grow healthier kids, support local agriculture and cultivate vibrant communities. These next 31 days are the perfect time to celebrate how far we've come, and dig in to keep growing the movement!
 
Special thanks to our 2019 National Farm to School Month Sponsors and Supporters, including CoBank and the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, and our Outreach Partner organizations that are helping us spread the word about farm to school throughout October. And, thanks to you for being a farm to school champion in your community.
 
Happy National Farm to School Month!

National Farm to School Month 2018 Roundup

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Highlighting Actions from Across the Nation



By Anna Defendiefer, Communications Intern

For the past 31 days of National Farm to School Month, millions of students, farmers, educators, and communities across the U.S. have been celebrating the movement that connects kids to healthy, local food and supports local economies. From Florida to Alaska and everywhere in between, people are understanding the power that farm to school can bring to kids, farmers, and communities - that’s what National Farm to School Month is all about! 

This year’s campaign encouraged participants to take action and try new things to further embrace the farm to school movement in their local communities. Hundreds of people across the country told us the activities they planned to try this month in our Take Action Pledge:

  • Harvested the school garden, cooked a meal, saved the seeds for next season, and amended the soil to get ready for spring - Alaska
  • Scheduled a Growing Gardens Class for preschoolers - Colorado
  • Taught students about healthy eating and exercise by using pumpkins as weights to do lunges and Russian twists - Connecticut
  • Partnered with a local dairy to name a baby calf - Delaware
  • Installed and planted a rain garden full of native pollinator plants - Oregon
  • Worked with a local dairy farm to teach students how farmers produce milk, yogurt, and cheese - Arizona
  • Students constructed a greenhouse for the school farm and grew food for the Mighty Mustang Backpack Meals Program - Mississippi
  • Celebrated “Garden Day” at a local elementary school, where each grade planted a different kind of seed - Texas

 

At the National Farm to School Network, we’ve been leading Farm to School Month celebrations by sharing farm to school inspiration and stories from partner organizations including School Nutrition Association, National Head Start Association, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and Newman’s Own Foundation. We also highlighted innovative approaches to farm to school by talking about breakfast and reducing plate waste in the cafeteria. 

On social media, we celebrated by encouraging people to share their ideas and help spread awareness for the farm to school movement using #F2SMonth and #farmtoschool. Over 6,000  social media posts celebrated farm to school this month, showcasing hundreds of activities and events. We were so inspired by the creative ideas and excitement for the farm to school movement we saw! 


Regionally, millions of students and teachers took a collective “crunch” into delicious local produce this month - states in the Great Lakes region, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia all ate local apples, while Florida enjoyed some cucumbers for “Cucumber Crunch!” Policymakers created Farm to School Month proclamations in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Arkansas, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Utah. Some states celebrated by creating exciting farm to school events: Georgia “Kickin’ It with Kale,” Iowa Local Food Day, Louisiana Farm to School Conference, the D.C. Greens Summit, Massachusetts Farm to School Awareness Day, New Jersey Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week, Texas Farm Fresh Challenge, and Mississippi Farm to School Week all helped spread awareness in a fun environment!

 
States also showcased their seasonal harvests in a variety of ways: California designated peppers as their “Harvest of the Month,” Idaho celebrated Harvest Day, Minnesota celebrated Minnesota Thursday, Maine hosted a Harvest Lunch Week, New Hampshire celebrated kale, Hawaii celebrated ‘Ulu (also known as breadfruit), and Nebraska launched Nebraska Thursdays. And that's just a snapshot!

Farm to school is a grassroots movement powered by people like you, who take action and try new things every day to encourage local food sourcing and food, agriculture, and nutrition education to students across the nation. While Farm to School Month has come to an end, we encourage you to keep the momentum going and continue to celebrate the positive power that farm to school brings to kids, farmers and communities. To stay up-to-date on the latest stories, new resources, policy actions, learning opportunities and more, join our network. Let’s keep taking action all year long!

Thank you to this year’s National Farm to School Month sponsors - CoBank, Newman’s Own Foundation, U.S. Highbush Blueberry CouncilCaptain Planet Foundation, Farm Credit, FarmLogix, Organic Valley, and High Mowing Organic Seeds - as well as the Featured Partner and Outreach Partner organizations that helped us spread the word about farm to school far and wide throughout October. And, thanks to YOU for being a farm to school champion in your community!

Plate Waste Warriors: How Schools Are Reducing Food Waste

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The blog is sponsored by CoBank, who shares the National Farm to School Network's mission of growing farm to school to support farmers and vibrant rural communities. We thank CoBank for being a sponsor of our 2018 National Farm to School Month Celebrations. 
By Elizabeth Esparza, NFSN Communications Intern

Observe any school cafeteria during a typical lunchtime, and you are bound to witness a perplexing problem. On the one hand, you would certainly see students who rely on school meals to meet their daily nutritional needs getting the food they need. Simultaneously, on any normal day, you would also undoubtedly notice the staggering amount of waste that cafeterias across the country inevitably produce. 

Though plate waste abounds, schools and communities throughout the country are stepping up to fight the issue with creative solutions. Reducing plate waste in schools is an important things to consider in ensuring that all students get the food they need while working to send less food to the landfill. Here are a few examples of how school campuses across the country are taking steps to put more food in tummies, and send less food into trash bins. 

The Natural Resources Council of Maine recently published a how-to Guide to Reduce Wasted Food in Maine’s K-12 Schools. One of the study’s coauthors, Ryan Parker, formerly a commercial farmer, was interested in how much it was costing school districts to purchase and prepare food that would ultimately be thrown away. Recognizing the barriers schools encounter in reducing their food waste such as limited staff time, serving mandates, and the length of lunchtime, the guide focuses on composting and share tables, two great ways to make sure the food they produce doesn’t go to waste. Public schools produce 1.9% of food waste in the country, which amounts to 36.5 pounds of food per student per year. Though there is certainly more waste to be found in other areas such as households, schools provide a great opportunity to teach and influence students to create positive habits for the future. Check out the guide from some practical examples that can be implemented at any school. 

The Campus Kitchens Project, a national program of DC Central Kitchen, has an innovative model to turn what could be waste into much needed meals for the community. The program works with students at 65 universities and high school campuses throughout the country to transform unused food from cafeterias and other community kitchens into meals for their hungry neighbors. With a model that targets the many root causes of hunger, Campus Kitchens not only feeds those who need it and keeps food from going to waste, it also creates opportunities for high school and college students to gain leadership and entrepreneurial skills that can benefit them into their future careers. Here’s an example of the impact one school has made through the program: Gonzaga College High School, located in Washington, D.C., has recovered 28,990 pounds of food since launching in 2005. The Campus Kitchen cooks twice a week, and delivers twice a week to mostly senior, low-income housing communities - watch the video the learn more! Overall, schools participating in The Campus Kitchen Project in the 2016-2017 academic year recovered 991,872 pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to waste, and prepared 378,423 nutritious meals for those in need. 

Another key strategy for reducing food waste is educating students about why this is an important issue in the first place. The more students know about food waste, food insecurity, and the complete cycle of the food system, the more likely they are to be conscious of what's left on their plate at the end of a meal. In Michigan, fifth graders at Traverse Heights Elementary have had a hands-on lesson with bananas (rescued from a local grocery story) that illustrated how much food is wasted despite the fact that many people are food insecure. In Arkansas, Washington Elementary School found success when students led a food plate waste audit. In the months following the audit, students reduced their milk waste by 20% and shared various unopened lunch meal items (e.g. milks, apples, oranges, etc.) as afternoon snacks with other students. And in Hawai'i, the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation's 3R’s School Recycling Program focuses on educating students to reduce, reuse and recycle waste in gardens, schoolyards, cafeterias, and classrooms. The program trains students leaders to engage their school community in implementing a school-wide recycling system by conducting classroom presentation, creating campaign materials, and serving as mentors on campus. Empowering students to feel knowledgeable and invested in taking action to reduce waste in the cafeterias and throughout their school campuses is an important step in creating lasting impacts on reduced school food waste. 

Whether they utilize share tables, composting, or transforming food, schools and communities are working to combat food waste by reducing what they are able to, reusing what they can, and repurposing what is left. 

If you are interested in fighting food waste in your school, here are some more resources to get you started:

Are you taking steps to reduce food waste in your school? We’d love to hear about it! Send us a note via our Story Form or tag us in a post on social media. 

How State Departments of Agriculture Grow Farm to School

NFSN Staff Monday, October 29, 2018
Guest post by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture


New Jersey State Department of Agriculture, 8th Annual Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association which represents the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries and directors of the departments of agriculture in all fifty states and four U.S. territories. NASDA grows and enhances agriculture by forging partnerships and creating consensus to achieve sound policy outcomes between state departments of agriculture, the federal government and stakeholders. NASDA appreciates its partnership with the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), as connecting farmers with new markets and children with healthy food is a common sense opportunity to create vibrant communities of all sizes. Across the nation, NASDA Members support farm to school activities in several creative ways. Read just a few of our success stories below:

Georgia Department of Agriculture
In 2014, the Georgia Department of Agriculture implemented a farm to school program, “Feed My School,” to help school nutrition programs utilize locally grown foods. Through identifying barriers to sourcing Georgia grown products and creating practical solutions for school nutrition directors, the department has reached over one-third of the state’s K-12 population. 

“Georgia Grown Test Kitchens” have tremendously aided the formulation of new meals and program implementation methods as they develop, test and share menu plans for schools across the state. Following the Feed My School program’s initial success, the department of agriculture has set a new goal to include 20 percent locally grown products in every school meal. To learn more about the Feed My School program and the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s goals, visit www.FeedMySchool.com.

New Jersey Department of Agriculture
The New Jersey State Department of Agriculture hosted a program this September to recognize New Jersey farmers’ farm to school efforts. This year’s winner, recognized during the 8th Annual Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week, was Terhune Orchards. 

Terhune Orchards regularly hosts classes from schools and events for children all year round. The orchard currently has a tour program that explores how crops grow, and life on the farm. Also, in one of the orchard’s barns, it features a life size story about corn showing the growth stages of corn until it is ready for harvest. “We feel strongly that it is important to show children how food is grown and to teach them about the importance of eating healthy,” said Gary Mount, Terhune Orchards owner and operator.

During the 2017-18 school year, the influence of the Jersey Fresh Farm to School Program led to 255 schools purchasing some local produce from their main distributor, 223 districts buying local produce directly from farms, 212 districts using a curriculum that ties cafeteria meals to healthy eating education and 114 districts organizing field trips to farms.

West Virginia Department of Agriculture
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture is collaborating with the West Virginia Department of Education and West Virginia University Extension Service on a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant project totaling $91,540. Together, they are designing and executing a two-year strategic plan that expands market opportunities for farmers. In addition to benefitting farmers, the project will increase awareness of West Virginia agriculture and provide resources to farmers, buyers and producers statewide. Stay updated on the program’s progress by visiting the West Virginia Department of Agriculture’s website

On a federal policy level, NASDA supports increased funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program from $5 to $15 million in order to incubate more farm to school programs throughout the United States. We also encourage Congress to provide additional regulatory flexibility to school food procurement practices. In order to provide this clarity, Congress should expand existing local procurement and geographic preference language to specifically allow “local” as a product specification for school food, provided competitive bidding is maintained. 

For those looking to learn more about their state’s farm to school initiatives, or if you have ideas on how to collaborate, NASDA suggests contacting your state department of agriculture. Search NASDA’s directory here

Celebrating Farm to School with Head Start Gardening!

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 25, 2018
Guest post by the National Head Start Association



Gardens offer untapped potential in low-income communities
Head Start strives to provide at-risk children with the support they need to reach their full potential in school and in life. Head Start recognizes good health and nutrition as the foundation of school readiness and child development, and takes a comprehensive approach to supporting and promoting the health and well-being of children and families. This approach includes high-quality health and nutrition standards that are required to be culturally and developmentally appropriate, meet the nutritional needs of all individual children, follow the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and USDA recommendations, and served as family-style meals to promote staff-child interactions and healthy socialization. However, we believe there is untapped potential for garden projects in Head Start and Early Head Start programs which can further improve the health and development of children in vulnerable communities, where fresh foods are most scarce. 

Recognizing the importance of strong health and nutrition in early childhood and understanding many at-risk children and families suffer from lack of access to fresh foods, the National Head Start Association (NHSA) has partnered with the National Farm to School Network to celebrate National Farm to School Month and to spread awareness on this critical issue. In celebration of National Farm to School Month, NHSA is expanding our reach, resources, and partnerships with organizations related to farm to early care and education, with the overall goal to increase access to gardening and its many benefits to low-income communities.

Numerous benefits to starting gardening early
Gardens and the fresh foods they provide in early care and education programs offer numerous benefits, ranging from increased access to nutritious and local foods for children in their vital years of development, to improved physical activity and hands-on learning related to agriculture, health, and nutrition. But not only does gardening contribute to positive child health outcomes, it also fosters healthy interactions and social skills between children, teachers, and families. Additionally, when schools and communities support local food systems, the surrounding economy thrives. 

Research to support these many benefits has grown in recent years and as a result, local fresh foods and gardens have spread through communities and schools. However, most families in vulnerable communities are still food insecure and often live in areas with little to no access to fresh foods, or “food deserts.” Far too often, low-income children and families lack access to basic fresh foods.

So in addition to the National Farm to School Network, NHSA has also joined forces with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation.
Through our partnership with Scotts Miracle-Gro, we will work with Head Start programs across the country to support children, families, and communities in the growing of their own fresh produce for life. This multi-year initiative will make garden grants, garden kits, educational curriculum, and garden training available to all Head Start programs, with the goal of creating more edible gardens for young children and their families. The partnership also includes a webinar series, as part of NHSA’s Year of Whole Health, to share information about how to create and sustain a successful Head Start garden program and the benefits for children, families, staff, and the surrounding community. 

By partnering with the National Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro, NHSA’s goal is to expand access to gardens, fresh foods and nutrition education materials for children, families, and staff across the Head Start field. NHSA hopes that each new garden grown or current garden maintained will stimulate healthy child development, family and community engagement, and sustainable locally sourced foods. 

How can you help?
Through these partnerships, NHSA encourages all families, teachers, and program leaders in Head Start and across the early care and education field to share educational materials and resources with your communities and find ways to incorporate gardens into your programs and schools. 

  • Visit the NHSA & Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Garden Grants Initiative website to apply for a grant for your Head Start or Early Head Start program and learn about future webinars and resources. 
  • Join us in celebrating National Farm to School Month! Check out NFSN’s Celebration Toolkit for ideas on how your community, school, or program can spread awareness and support locally sourced foods. Did you know that October is National Head Start Awareness Month, too? Head Start programs can celebrate both by raising awareness of Head Start’s impacts and the ways they’re growing healthy kids and healthy families through farm to school activities. 
  • Read through NFSN’s Growing Head Start Success with Farm to Early Care and Education report to understand more about the role Head Start can play in promoting farm to ECE.   
  • Read through the 2018 National Farm to Early Care and Education Survey produced by NFSN and Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. This information is easily shared with families, teachers, and communities through the Fact Sheet, Infographic, and Sharing Toolkit provided in the above link. 
  • Search other helpful resources in NFSN’s resource database to understand more about the benefits of gardening and supporting local fresh foods and how you can spread this initiative to all children and families in need.
To stay up-to-date with the National Head Start Association’s work, follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Happy Farm to School Month!

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