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National Farm to School Network

News

Magic is Growing in Maine

NFSN Staff Thursday, September 21, 2017


By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern 

Less than ten miles from the US-Canada boarder in far eastern Maine, sits the Indian Township school garden and greenhouse. Against the odds of the region’s short growing season, coupled with torrential rains this past spring, and followed by a drought in late summer, magic is growing. Donna Meader-York, the school’s librarian and farm to school champion, shared that this year’s squash harvest from their Three Sisters Garden has been a point of pride for all involved. Additionally, Donna was excited to tell us that the bountiful squash harvest has had an unexpected but positive impact. “Weeds and insects are down with tons of bees. Tons of bees buzzing around the squash blossoms!”

The Three Sisters are the three main agricultural crops - winter squash, maize (corn), and runner beans - of several Native American groups in North America. Traditionally, the Three Sisters are planted together as companion crops. As the plants grow, they support and benefit from each other. The maize grows tall which gives the beans a structure to climb, and the squash vines out along the ground which blocks weeds and holds moisture in the soil. All the while, the beans add nitrogen into the soil, which the corn and squash use to grow. Delicious cooperation! 

During the summer months, the produce from the Three Sisters Garden at Indian Township was donated to a local food pantry. Now that school is in session, each school garden harvest heads to the school kitchen. Donna told us that the spring rains delayed their corn and bean plantings, and that there is not much of a harvest from those crops this season. “There is a lot we learned with this garden, and we hope to get it right next growing season. Meanwhile, this winter, we are going to try to grow lettuce and spinach for our school salad bar in our newly repaired greenhouse!” The National Farm to School Network sees that the health of the soil, students, and entire community is growing in Indian Township, and we think that is pretty magical. 


Indian Township School is the recipient of a National Farm to School Network Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School mini-grant. Seed Change in Native Communities is made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.


Seed Change is sprouting in Native communities

NFSN Staff Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Launched in April 2017, the National Farm to School Network's Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School project aims to expand farm to school activities in Native communities and leverage community-wide initiatives towards building food security and food sovereignty and revitalizing use of traditional foods. Five Native schools have been awarded Seed Change mini-grants to expand and promote farm to school in their communities in 2017. Here are brief updates about what the school have been working on:

Hardin School District 17H&1 – Crow Reservation: Crow Nation (Montana): From bringing local food into the cafeteria with a Harvest of the Month program, to a farmer visiting classrooms to teach students about local grains, farm to school is taking root in the Hardin School District. Work is being done to prep an unused school field for transformation into an orchard and outdoor learning space with native shrubs, berries bushes, and fruit trees. Students are sure to be harvesting farm to school goodness for years to come! 

Hydaburg City School – Hydaburg, Prince of Wales Island: Haida Nation (Alaska): The school's new garden and greenhouse have been running for less than a year, and already student-grown raspberries and sugar snap peas are being incorporated into the school's lunch program. YUM!

Indian Township School – Indian Township Reservation: Passamaquoddy Tribe (Maine): This farm to school team is led by the school's librarian and after school coordinator. Following an ample harvest of squash from their new three sister's garden this summer, they're already looking forward to planning next season's garden. 

Mala`ai Kula: Kaua`i Farm-to-School Pilot – Kaua`i Island: Native Hawaiians (Hawaii): This farm to school pilot program on the island of Kaua'i aims to connect students to culturally relevant foods, such as taro and sweet potatoes, while also encouraging farmers to grow more of these foods to better align with a native diet. Read more about Mala`ai Kula's commitment to serve culturally relevant foods here

Warm Springs K8 Academy – Warm Springs Reservation: Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Oregon): Warm Springs K8 Academy is creating a community-wide culture of wellness by engage students and their families in farm to school activities. In June, the school year's final family night, attended by over 1,000 students and family members, was a Powwow and dinner that served traditional and fresh foods including salmon and root vegetables. 

Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School is made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.

Serving Up Tradition!

NFSN Staff Thursday, August 31, 2017
By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

Since farm to school celebrates local food, farmers, communities and traditions, it looks different in every community.  So an important question for our work is, “what do culturally relevant and traditional foods look like in our schools?” Food service directors, garden educators and school administration should ask, ‘Is this food culturally relevant to my students?’ in the same way that they ask, ‘Is this food grown locally?’. The following are two stories of farm to school champions that recognize the importance of structuring farm to school activities to reflect their communities’ food cultures. 

In the capitol of Iowa’s heartland, Executive Chef Chad Taylor has been working in the Des Moines Public Schools for over 20 years. The DMPS district serves 63 locations and an average of 34,000 students daily. While the district has worked with farm to school initiatives through state funded nutrition education programs, FoodCorps, and a USDA Farm to School grant, it was not until several years ago that the district started considering the intersection of culturally relevant foods with farm to school. 

A principal from one of the district’s middle schools approached Chad with a unique challenge involving a group of immigrant students.  These middle school students were going home at lunch to eat and not returning to school because they were uncomfortable with the foods being offered through school lunch, and too embarrassed to bring their traditional foods from home. Chad met with these students and their families and asked what they would like to see offered on the school lunch menu. He did not want the changes to be a one time hit and miss, so DMPS committed to offering noodles and/or rice everyday at this middle school per the students’ request. In the end, it was a win for all students. Chad noted that, “the Midwest native students wanted to try the new foods, too.” 

Today, DMPS Food Service works to provide flavor stations in many of their schools, giving students access to a variety of culturally-relevant herbs, sauces and other flavor enhancers such as locally grown jalapenos. Chad was quick to point out that not every flavor station looks the same because every school has students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Since the 1970’s, the district has included a number of immigrant and refugee populations from Latin America, Asia and Africa. Even within a single school district farm to school is not one size fits all.

About 4,000 miles from Des Moines, a farm to school pilot on the island of Kauai in Hawaii is taking off under the direction of Megan Fox, Executive Director for the nonprofit organization Mala’ai Kula. There are approximately 350 students in the four charter schools that Mala’ai Kula serves. Most of the students are native Hawaiian and have chosen to attend these schools because of programs such as Hawaiian Language immersion, which allows students to learn in their native language before learning in English. The emphasis on the importance of native traditions extends into these schools’ food service and education thanks, in part, to the support from Mala’ai Kula, a recipient of a National Farm to School Network Seed Change in Native Communities* mini-grant. 

Since Hawaii was colonized, the western diet has brought non-traditional foods such as nitrite-filled meats and ultra-processed snacks to the island. Today, Hawaiians have high rates of diet-related diseases such as chronic high blood pressure and diabetes.  This is one of the many reasons that Mala’ai Kula’s farm to school pilot work is so important. Megan described farm to school as a tool for “giving local farmers an outlet for native foods.”  She added that farm to school helps in the effort toward “creating a traditional food way and bringing back a more native diet.”

With funding support from Seed Change, several of the schools’ food service staff attended an Edible Schoolyard training in Berkley, California this summer. This training served as an invaluable tool that inspired one school chef to reconnect with the importance of Hawaii’s native foods, also known as canoe foods. Kalo (taro), ‘Ulu (breadfruit), and ‘Uala (sweet potatoes) are all canoe foods that are now growing in school gardens, being served up on school lunch and breakfast trays, and serving as teaching resources to connect students to their ancestry. 

From a large school district in the Midwest to small, native charter schools in Kauai, a focus on culturally relevant foods can look vastly different depending on the school community.  Many farm to school slogans highlight the power of farm to school’s ability to ‘serve up change.’ The Des Moines Public Schools and Mala’ai Kula remind us that using farm to school to ‘serve up tradition’ can be just as powerful. 


*Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School is made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.

Five Mini-Grants Awarded in Native Communities

NFSN Staff Monday, April 17, 2017

The National Farm to School Network’s new Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School project is taking off this month with the selection of five Native schools as mini-grantees. From planting native orchards to serving traditional foods in school meals, the schools will be expanding farm to school activities and leveraging community support to build food security and food sovereignty. Here’s a preview of the projects they’ll be working on:
 
Hardin School District 17H&1Crow Reservation: Crow Nation (Montana)
Partner with local entities and individuals to empower students in learning about traditional foods, preparation, storage and ceremony. Create a native orchard, featuring a variety of native berries, including buffalo berries, june berries and chokecherries.
 
Hydaburg City SchoolHydaburg, Prince of Wales Island: Haida Nation (Alaska)
Connect students with locally grown and traditional foods (such as rutabagas, parsnips and the Haida potato) by expanding the existing school garden to include a greenhouse. In May, students will celebrate Haida Day by giving Elders a tour of the new greenhouse and learning about the village’s old garden site.
 
Indian Township SchoolIndian Township Reservation: Passamaquoddy Tribe (Maine)
Engage students in traditional growing practices by reviving an existing greenhouse and school garden. Students will catch fish to be used as garden fertilizer, and will learn planting techniques like the Three Sisters. Food grown in the garden will supplement the school lunch program, summer food service and elderly food site.
 
Mala`ai Kula: Kaua`i Farm-to-School PilotKaua`i Island: Native Hawaiians (Hawaii)
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 is helping students build a healthier relationship with traditional food systems through school gardens and locally-grown foods in school meals.
 
Warm Springs K8 Academy Warm Springs Reservation: Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Oregon)
Help students make connections about where food comes from and how it relates to their cultural heritage by planting a school garden and promoting a healthy snacks program. The garden will also be used for science and nutrition education.

Stay tuned to hear more from these schools in the coming months. We'll be sharing their stories and successes in our e-newsletter, social media and here on our blog!
 
 
Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School is made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.

Farm to school in rural Louisiana restores local food connections

NFSN Staff Wednesday, May 04, 2016
By Nicole Mabry, Louisiana Farm to School Alliance 
 Rory Gresham leads a tour of the Richland Parish School Board hydroponic growing system.
(Photo credit: Jason Van Haverbeke)

In the transnational push for more sustainable local food systems, rural communities face unique challenges that city-centric conversations can fail to capture. Across Louisiana, rural parishes are finding innovative, collaborative ways to revitalize local food economies that can often feel disinvested from the community. Leading this movement to stimulate local food systems in rural Louisiana are schools.

With support from Seed Change, a National Farm to School Network initiative aimed at expanding farm to school activities at the state and community levels, and the Louisiana Farm to School Alliance, a statewide network of organizations working in food, farming, nutrition and education, schools across the state are bringing fresh, healthy food into cafeterias and increasing food and agricultural literacy in the classroom. 

A look at three different rural Seed Change Louisiana sites offers a glimpse into how dedicated educators, administrators and growers are finding fresh ways to restore connection and inspire growth through school food. 

Richland Parish School Board

Since the beginning of 2016, Richland Parish School Board’s greenhouse program has supplied their Food Service Department with more than 4,200 heads of lettuce to be served in the district’s twelve schools. This is particularly impressive considering the greenhouse is only 20x48 feet – or roughly the size of two adjacent school buses. Serving as a Seed Change Demonstration Site in northeast Louisiana, Richland Parish School Board invested its Seed Change grant funding into building the greenhouse along with the high-efficiency hydroponic growing system it houses. Rory Gresham, greenhouse manager for Richland Parish School Food Service, has noticed a considerable increase in the amount of greens the students are eating. “It’s amazing how many students come up and tell me that they didn’t know lettuce had a taste,” he says. Far beyond the cafeteria, Richland’s hydroponic greenhouse is also having an impact across the region. Gresham regularly hosts visitors from throughout the south who are eager to replicate this innovative system in their own school districts and communities. With a professional internship program in partnership with the local university slated to begin next year, Richland may well have a hand in producing a new crop of Louisiana farmers along with its lettuce and tomatoes. 

Northwest High School, Opelousas
Cody Manuel, agriculture teacher at Northwest High School and Seed Change Louisiana mini-grantee, often views his classes as a hands-on course in communication skills. Inspired by a Seed Change training held at the Richland Parish School Board Demonstration Site, Manuel hopes to expand his existing garden based curriculum and small-scale hydroponic growing system where he says students are learning meaningful career skills such as, “How to accept constructive criticism, how to work together, how to communicate.” Manuel adds that he’s noticed a niche market emerging for high quality, locally grown crops, and students in his classes are also taking note. Manuel hopes Northwest’s farm to school program will support students’ entry into sustainable farming. “Those that enjoy growing things and see there’s money to be made in it, they’ll pursue it. I think it’s going that way, it’s not just a trend.”

LaSalle Parish School Board

Kelly Thompson, Child Nutrition Supervisor at LaSalle Parish Schools and lifelong gardener, has always been attracted to the idea of incorporating gardening into classroom curriculum. “What a great way to teach students leadership, responsibility and to help them develop a sense of place about our community,” she says. After being selected as a Seed Change Louisiana mini-grantee, Thompson was able to turn her vision into reality. Equipped with training and funding, raised bed gardens have been installed at all four of LaSalle Parish’s elementary schools – and the impacts have been noticeable. “Students having so much fun and smiling. Even their behavior has changed, with a new peace and calmness.” The gardens are also gaining interest and support from many in the community. Some of the community’s most knowledgeable local gardeners now volunteer and are helping to keep the gardens thriving. Through these school-community partnerships, LaSalle Parish is restoring the community’s intergenerational knowledge of the land and teaching the parish’s littlest learners how to grow.
(Photo credit: LaSalle Parish School Board)

Funding and support provided by Seed Change has sparked an upwelling of new opportunities for farm to school projects across the region. Katie Mularz, Executive Director for the Louisiana Farm to School Alliance and Seed Change State Coordinator said, “Even modest farm to school funding supports schools to be innovative agents of change—leading the way to healthier, more sustainable systems while addressing community needs and inspiring youth to see a brighter future.”

Learn more about the National Farm to School Network’s Seed Change initiative and how we’re growing farm to school state by state here

Seed Change in Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Walmart Foundation, which shares the National Farm to School Network’s commitment to improving child and community healthy through innovative partnerships

Winter planning for spring chickens

NFSN Staff Thursday, February 04, 2016
By Nora Jungbluth, Programs Intern

 Photo credit: Jason Van Haverbeke
Although the ground is still covered in snow and the spring thaw feels distant, students and staff at Bald Eagle Area School District in Pennsylvania are busy preparing for an exciting (and tasty) new project. As a recipient of a Seed Change mini grant, the school district is ramping up its farm to school efforts with a unique “Chicken and Corn to Cafeteria” initiative. Starting this spring, students will be involved in every step of bringing chicken from eggshell to table. 
 
With support from the grant, the district plans to build its agricultural program, with a twist: raising chickens and growing sweet corn to prepare a large batch of chicken and corn chowder to feed students and the wider community. 

While teachers and staff have been preparing for the project for months – such as attending a farm to school training last fall with other Seed Change grant recipients – student involvement has recently taken off as the project has been integrated into classroom curriculum. Over the past few weeks, students have been preparing for the arrival of 40 fertilized eggs that will be hatched and raised to adulthood on the school grounds this spring. 

When the eggs arrive, kindergarten students will be responsible for watching over the incubators until the eggs hatch. This lesson in caring for the eggs will be integrated into their science curriculum, teaching them the process of hatching eggs and identifying the conditions young chicks need to live and grow. 

Middle and high school students in the woodshop and agriculture classes have been constructing brooder boxes that will keep the newly hatched chicks warm and cozy in their infant stage. The classes are also designing and constructing a hen house for when the chicks grow larger. Later this spring, after the birds have grown to full size, both the agriculture and family and consumer science classes will be directly involved in butchering and processing the chickens for chowder.

While the project initially intended for student to grow their own corn for the chowder, an unusually wet summer prevented them from having a successful growing season. Therefore, corn was purchased from a nearby farmer, which family and consumer science classes processed and froze to be used in the chowder later this spring. Currently, the students are researching chicken corn chowder recipes, testing different methods of preparing soup, as well as learning about ways of processing and storing chicken and corn. 

Once the chicken corn chowder is made, the district plans to sell the soup as a fundraiser to fund the project’s continuation next year. In this way, they hope the project will become a self-sustaining school tradition. 

“Innovative projects like this have a significant impact on entire communities,” says Kelsey Porter, Pennsylvania’s Seed Change state coordinator. “Students are engaging in agriculture in new and exciting ways, teachers are utilizing new tools in the classroom, and communities are renewing their excitement about local food.”   

Learn more about our Seed Change initiative and how we're growing farm to school state by state here

Seed Change in Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Walmart Foundation, which shares the National Farm to School Network’s commitment to improving child and community healthy through innovative partnerships. 

With farm to school trainings, the learning goes both ways

NFSN Staff Friday, October 09, 2015
By Lihlani Skipper, Seed Change Program Associate


On a warm day in late September, teachers, school food service staff, administrators, and parents from across Kentucky gathered outside Boyle County High School for a special day of education. 

The students: Teams from Seed Change grantee schools hoping to jumpstart farm to school activities in their own communities.

The trainers: Ag-science teachers, University of Kentucky extensions agents, school nutrition staff and high schools students eager to share their passion for connecting kids to local food and farms. 

The subject: All things farm to school

With a packed schedule, these trainees spent the day learning about greenhouse hydroponics, high tunnel production and maintenance of raised bed gardens. They also met with the Food Service Director Judy Ellis, who highlighted the garden program and explained how garden produce is incorporated into school meals. In the afternoon, the trainees talked with University of Kentucky Horticultural experts and Cooperative Extension agents, who have been instrumental in helping Boyle County HS develop their program, choose appropriate equipment, and consider important issues of sustainability.

The training at Boyle County HS is just one component of the National Farm to School Network’s new Seed Change initiative in Kentucky, which aims to rapidly scale up farm to school activities across the state by connecting hundreds of farm to school advocates to share best practices, build community engagement and bring more local food into schools. It is one of several school-based initiatives across the country supported by the Walmart Foundation, which has as focus of improving child nutrition through school meal programs and access to nutrition education. 

This peer-learning model is bringing people together – some new to farm to school, some veterans – but all are learning from each other. As Toni Myers, Agricultural Science teacher and FFA advisor explained, “These trainings are a two-way street. In fact, I’ll be changing some of our own practices in the greenhouse and gardens because of ideas shared by the trainees!” 

Kara Shelton, a senior at Boyle County HS, is one of Toni’s “Garden Girls,” a group of FFA students that led a tour of the raised bed gardens and greenhouse hydroponic system at the Seed Change training. Not only are these students practicing their public speaking skills, building confidence and strengthening their job skills, but they’re also sharing their passions for working in the school garden and inspiring visiting teachers and school staff. 

“Before I worked in the garden, my idea of community service was limited. But now, I see that there are more ways to help in my community than I thought,” said Kara. “Last summer, I had the opportunity to deliver fresh produce we had grown in the school gardens to a weekend backpack program, which helps provide food for young students and families in need. This made working in our gardens a more personal experience for me. Before I was introduced to the families, all I could see when I went to the garden was twelve 8’x4’ raised beds, but now I’m able to connect the gardens to a person, and see the effect it had on other people. Seeing a little girl run up to me and hug my leg and say ‘Thank you so much for all my food!’ definitely added more fuel to my fire. It made me want to see the gardens grow. I wanted to produce as much as I could to feed this little girl and her family.” 

The schools that are part of Seed Change are empowering students to be better eaters, to be farmers, teachers, and leaders in their communities. These same students are, in turn, inspiring other schools and communities to build their own farm to school programs. 

The training at Boyle County School District was the first of 15 Seed Change trainings that will take place at six demonstration sites across Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Louisiana this fall and early winter. Seed Change grantees will use these trainings to help implement their projects and catalyze school gardens, take farm field trips, host local food tastings, and integrate experiential nutrition and agriculture education into school curriculum. 


Seed Change in Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Walmart Foundation, which shares the National Farm to School Network’s commitment to improving child and community healthy through innovative partnerships. Learn more about Seed Change here

More than one good day: seeding change with farm to school

NFSN Staff Tuesday, September 08, 2015

By Sara Tedeschi, Seed Change Program Manager

Seed Change Program Manager Sara Tedeschi and Program Associate Lihlani Skipper recently visited Seed Change demonstration sites in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Louisiana. 

Some days at work are just better than others, no question.

The day we hit “send” to award $.5 million in mini grants directly to schools to build and expand farm to school activities was a really good day at work.

This fall, 100 schools in Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania will each receive $5,000 Seed Change mini grants to fund a wide variety of farm to school activities, including building new school gardens, leading farm field trips and hosting community dinners featuring farm fresh food and local farmers. Direct funding at this level is a first for the National Farm to School Network, and as the mini grant projects take off with the start of the new school year, we’re taking a moment to recognize the impact this new initiative will have.  

Indeed, Seed Change is a new and exciting initiative for the National Farm to School Network. It is the first time we have received a grant (in this case, a generous donation by the Walmart Foundation) and re-granted funds directly at the local level to stimulate state-wide networking and jumpstart school and community participation in farm to school. Sharing in our excitement for this new initiative are our Seed Change state coordinator and partners: Kentucky Department of Agriculture (Ky.), Marketumbrella.org (La.), and The Food Trust (Pa.).  In addition to conducting outreach and training activities, these partners led the state committees that reviewed 185 grant applications in order to select the 100 mini grantees.

You might be wondering about the 85 applicants who, instead of receiving good news on this day, learned that we were unable to fund their proposals. Was our really good day hampered by the blow of also hitting send on these less-than-exciting emails? It was not, and here’s why: the large number of applications we received is great validation for the future of Seed Change and the farm to school movement. These applicants have shown us that schools are excited and ready to start connecting children to local food, and that’s good news as we continue to build partnerships and expand models for seeding change at the local level.

In addition to awarding mini grants, the Seed Change model in Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania incorporates six “demonstration site” school districts, two in each state. Selected for their experience in farm to school leadership, these sites will serve as training hubs for the mini grantees, offering half-day farm to school tours and trainings this fall semester. In addition to modeling successful farm to school programs, these trainings will offer resources and provide opportunities for mini grantees to meet and learn from their colleagues across the state.

Having recently visited all six demonstration sites, I can heartily report that these school districts and their staff are beyond inspirational. Each site is distinctly unique in its farm to school programming and innovations, facilities, and the champions who help make these programs grow. But there is one consistent thread: everyone expressed a sense of commitment to and excitement about their role in helping farm to school thrive. In other words, these folks were having good days, too! Their contagious passion for farm to school and their “can do” entrepreneurial spirits will surely inspire the mini grantees soon to arrive on their campuses.

So, as you can see, our really good day at work did not end when we hit “send” on the mini grant award email. In fact, that was only the beginning of Seed Change, with the most exciting parts yet to unfold. Stay tuned for more good days to come.

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