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Developing young entrepreneurs in school gardens

NFSN Staff Thursday, June 16, 2016
 Photo credit: DC Greens
When schools let out for summer, many garden coordinators look for creative ways to keep school gardens thriving. Tapping into the enthusiasm, creativity and efforts of high schoolers can be a great way to maintain gardens when classes are out, and summer programs are an opportunity for students to gain valuable professional and entrepreneurial experience. From leadership to marketing and accounting to customer service, programs that hire students to tend school gardens offer countless benefits – for garden plants and young adults, both! 

Gather inspiration from this roundup of media stories highlighting several models of youth entrepreneurship programs in school gardens: 

Fellowship of the farm: Teens tend school garden through summer
The Spartan Urban Farm Fellowship pays high school students a stipend to work in the Corvallis High School garden three days a week during the summer. Produce grown in the garden is sold at a weekly farmers market hosted at a local elementary school. (Corvallis Gazette-Times, Oregon) 

Program takes school gardening to new level: entrepreneurship

A program at San Francisco’s June Jordan School For Equity is taking traditional school gardens to a new level, where the green isn’t only in the dirt or student diets, but also in their wallets. Students earn $10 an hour learning how to plant, harvest, cook and sell vegetables at a local farmer’s market. (SFGate, California) 

Youth In Agriculture Growing Beyond Farms 
Cleveland Botanical Gardens’ Green Corps hires high school youth to work 20 hours per week during summer months, where they learn about sustainable agriculture and community engagement by working on one of six urban farms. The youth education component of the program is an important element to agriculture in the city, as many of the students taking part have little-to-no outside growing experience. (Growing Produce, Ohio)

Healthy Eaters, Strong Minds: What School Gardens Teach Kids 
City Blossoms employs high school youth in Washington, D.C., to tend to gardens at schools and community centers with low access to fresh, healthy foods. Students then sell produce grown in the gardens at farmers markets, learning valuable business and money skills. (NRP, Washington, D.C.)

Alameda Students Bring Two School Gardens Back to Life
Thanks to high school students, gardens around Alameda, Calif., are springing back to life. Project Eat’s “Get Fresh! Eat Healthy!” internship hires about a dozen high school students in the summer to revitalize school gardens and develop skills that can translate into work opportunities later. (Alameda Patch, California)

Are youth helping to keep your school garden thriving this summer? Are you a high school student working on a school garden or farm this summer? Tell us about it! Use our story form to share how farm to school activities like school gardens are benefiting your community. 

Learn more about farm to school in summer by exploring resources in our Resource Library

Urban farms help city kids bring field to tray

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 14, 2015
This week’s Farm to School Month blogs are sponsored by Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative representing more than 1,800 organic farmers across the United States. Committed to fostering health and wellness in the youth of America, Organic Valley is proud to support the National Farm to School Network.

   Photo Credit: Illinois Farm to School Network
By Lydia Mills, Illinois Farm to School Network 

Illinois may be corn country, but with 65 percent of the state’s population living in the Chicago area, many students have little experience with agriculture. When city kids think of farms, they typically imagine acres of pasture and red barns filled with cows. So as farm to school grows in Illinois, so do our efforts to connect students with agricultural experience in their own back yards. With farm to school field trips and lessons in the school garden, students are learning what it takes to get food from field to plate. 

Urban farms in Chicago, Springfield, and other cities in Illinois are booming, and many value community involvement as much as profits and sales. With specialties from aquaponics to livestock, and apiaries to orchards, these farms provide an opportunity for students to learn about food production and agricultural career options without leaving the city.  

Recently, I accompanied a group of elementary students from the south side of Chicago to one of these urban farms – a total distance of 5.5 miles away. Windy City Harvest Youth Farm is a small vegetable operation with high tunnels in the heart of Chicago. The farm hosts a dynamic youth development program, employing up to 90 teens from low-income communities to learn about growing food sustainably, healthy eating, and food justice advocacy. Youth Farm students not only grow good, healthy food for their neighbors – they’re proving to be the next generation of food leaders: 93 percent graduate from high school, 53 percent enroll in college, and many continue their work in Chicago’s growing urban agriculture sector. 

On our tour of this farm, the elementary students were open to experiences and opportunities they had never had before. They picked and ate mizuna greens in the high tunnels and declared them a new favorite (they also dubbed them “mizu-ka” greens!). In the raised garden beds, turnips stuck out, and the students were excited for the opportunity to harvest them – which they did with great enthusiasm. The apiary was the only section of the farm where the students held back, a bit afraid of being stung. However, they asked the farmer lots of questions, and were able to learn a great lesson about pollination. 

After this field trip, the students were noticeably more engaged in their garden at school. They were excited to spend time tending to the vegetable they were growing, and even more so when it was time to harvest. The garden was both a learning tool and an eating tool! 

Farm visits are valuable in every type of educational setting – from K-12 classes to afterschool and child care programs – and there are dozens of resources for aligning classroom curriculum with these educational tours. In Illinois, farms like Angelic Organics Learning Farm have created standards-aligned programming so that farm visits enhance classroom learning, and organizations like Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom offer numerous curriculum materials. Seven Generations Ahead distributes a free, standards-based curriculum for year round school garden education, called Sow and Grow. When field trips aren’t an option, educators are using the Adopt a Farmer Program to connect students with farmers through pen-pal style photos, letters and classroom visits.   

Farm to school programs teach students many things, including where food comes from and how to appreciate the process that it takes for food to get to our plates. Meeting farmers, whether urban or rural, and seeing their work to bring food from field to plate is just as vital as tasting new foods. This farmer-student connect is also a proven method for encouraging kids to try new food. Kids who know their food, eat their food. Visit a farm during Farm to School Month and see what your students learn! 

More than lunch: the academic benefits of farm to school

NFSN Staff Monday, October 12, 2015
This week’s Farm to School Month blogs are sponsored by Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative representing more than 1,800 organic farmers across the United States. Committed to fostering health and wellness in the youth of America, Organic Valley is proud to support the National Farm to School Network.

Photo credit: Salem County Vocational Technical Schools

By Beth Feehan, New Jersey Department of Agriculture

We know farm to school activities are an effective approach for encouraging kids to try healthy foods, but what are the benefits of farm to school in the classroom? The short answer: there are many! With curriculum potential for courses from carpentry to English, farm to school education encompasses 21st century skills and offers engaging, hands-on learning experiences for all students. 

Salem County Career and Technical School in southern New Jersey is a shining example of the academic benefits of farm to school. With the guidance of FoodCorps service members and support from school administration, this high school went from zero farm to school programing to nearly 100% class participation within one year. What started as a simple school garden is now a cross-disciplinary learning space for nearly all of the school’s 600 students. 

For example, agriculture students dug the garden beds, and environmental science classes planted the vegetable seeds. The construction class created garden infrastructure by building a shed, trellises and compost bins. Art students designed garden signage, and the welding class built a blender bike so garden produce could be turned into smoothies. Now, English classes use the space for creative writing inspiration, and health students use the garden’s vegetables to learn about skeletal structures.  

Perhaps the most delicious classroom connection comes through the culinary arts department, whose kitchen classrooms are linked to the garden via an exterior door. Culinary students help harvest and transform the garden’s fresh produce into taste tests for their peers. Some of the dishes they’ve created include mustard-green pesto on bread made in the school’s bakery, and arugula-radish salad with local apples. The arugula salad received such a great response from students that the school’s food service director has added it to the lunch menu. 

Beyond the garden, the school teamed up with two other FoodCorps sites to design and build a Farm2You mobile classroom, which visits nearby schools to educate students about local food. The Farm2You van also sells fresh, local produce, which parents can buy when picking up their students from school. Automotive technology students helped build the vehicle from the shell of an old minibus, and computer-aided design and drafting students created a floor plan for the interior. Based on those plans, construction and welding students built the van’s interior shelving system. Graphic design students got involved by creating the Farm2You logo, and the agriculture students pitched in by contacting local farmers whose produce could be used to stock the van's shelves. 

During the 2014 Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week, New Jersey Department of Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher visited the school to see all of theses great farm to school activities in action. While touring the school that day, it was clear just how much of an impact the school’s garden and farm to school programming have had on the school community. It has taught students about healthy eating and local agriculture, and united the entire school around a fun and impactful cross-disciplinary project with practical lessons that will stick with students for many years to come. 

As Salem County Career and Technical School has demonstrated, farm to school education enhances student learning across the board, from encouraging critical thinking and problem solving, to fostering creativity and collaboration. Farm to school is not only effective in getting kids excited about local food, but engages students in hands-on learning activities and lessons that go beyond school walls. This is just one school’s story, and there are thousands more. It’s how we know farm to school works, and it’s why we’re celebrating National Farm to School Month! 

Youth teaching youth: spreading a culture of wellness through peer education

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 06, 2015
By Miguel Villarreal, Novato Unified School District
  Photo Credit: Camp Cauliflower
With more than 32 years of experience in school food service, I’ve seen thousands of kids benefit from healthy food experiences in the cafeteria. It’s one of the perks of my job as Novato Unified School District’s (Calif.) food and nutrition director – I have the opportunity to teach kids about healthy eating by encouraging them to try new foods. While we work hard to educate our students about nutrition and wellness, we know that sometimes the best way to learn isn’t from teachers at all – but rather, from one’s own peers.  
In 2014, 16 year-old Elena Dennis approached me with a proposal along these lines. Inspired by a passion for cooking and interest in healthy eating, Elena had a vision to lead a free cooking camp during the summer to teach elementary students about the basics of healthy meal preparation. I didn’t hesitate in telling her that I would be glad to support her efforts. After all, her goal of inspiring kids to enjoy nutritious eating was my goal. With her passion for education and our schools’ commitment to healthy, local food in cafeterias, our combined efforts could be a winning combination for creating a culture of health and wellness in our schools. 

With our district’s Food and Nutritional Services kitchen secured as the camp location and a name selected, Camp Cauliflower took root. Elena began planning recipes, placing food orders, and arranging field trips to local farms. To keep the cost of participation free, Elena secured food donations from local grocery stores and organized a fundraising event. She also recruited two of her high school friends – Michala and Dani Cohen – to assist her as volunteers.

Once the tentative schedule was in place, Elena worked with three Novato elementary schools principles to recruit participants. While only five students – all 8 year-old girls – signed up that first year, Camp Cauliflower was a big hit. The campers spent the week exercising their culinary skills in a professional kitchen, cooking delicious meals from scratch and learning about the importance of a healthy, balanced diet. Elena sourced local, organic products for the campers to make homemade ravioli, salads, pizza, tostadas, guacamole, salsa, agua fresca and many more delicious recipes. 
The campers harvested some of the ingredients to make these tasty meals when they visited the College of Marin's Indian Valley Campus organic farm and garden. When they weren’t cooking or harvesting vegetables, the campers learned about nutrition through activities like blind taste tests and by learning to read food package labels. Every day, the campers widened their knowledge of healthful eating and expanded their appetites for delicious, nutritious food.     

As I watched over the first year of Camp Cauliflower, my excitement and belief in a future generation of passionate, healthy eaters was strengthened. Elena and her fellow high school volunteers were an inspiration to watch as they interacted with younger students. This experience of peer education not only provided these high school students an opportunity to exercise their leadership skills, but a vehicle through which they were able to become active, motivated stakeholders in our work to create a healthier environment in our schools and community. They’ve shown us that adults aren’t the only ones shaping the food movement – students are also providing vision, ideas, and leading the way.  

This past summer, Camp Cauliflower was in full swing again – this time with 2 sessions and 30 participants – where Elena continued to educate and inspire even more of her younger schoolmates. If the campers’ excitement was any indication, we have many budding peer educators in our community who will be passing on their food knowledge to their classmates. Youth to youth, our students are inspiring each other, and cultivating a community of healthy habits and wellness throughout our schools.    

DC chefs help kids bring farm to plate

NFSN Staff Friday, September 25, 2015

By Lea Howe, Farm to School Director, DC Greens

 (All photos courtesy of DC Greens)

A few months ago, summer school 6th graders at Walker Jones Education Campus excitedly shuffled through the gates of the K Street Farm in Washington, D.C. It was a special day, as two local chefs – Jeremiah and Chris – would be joining the students in the garden. It may seem odd that this encounter did not take place in the school's new state-of-the-art food lab. After all, what were these chefs doing on an urban farm and not in the kitchen?

But farms like K Street are exactly where you'll find Jeremiah Langhorne, executive chef and owner of The Dabney, most afternoons. As he prepares to open his first restaurant this fall, Jeremiah has visited dozens of local farms and urban gardens from which he will source almost 100% of the ingredients needed for his seasonal menus. From heritage breed animals to West Virginia salt, he's taking farm to table to the next level and giving his diners an authentic taste of the Mid-Atlantic.

Today his line cooks were 6th graders. The students led Jeremiah and his sous chef, Chris, around the farm, where together they harvested armfuls of herbs and veggies: basil, mint, swiss chard, collard greens, shiso, garlic, onions, squash, tomatoes and peppers. They hauled their bounty up one block to the Walker Jones Education Campus where in the food lab, students watched with awe as the chefs finely minced the freshly harvested produce. But the chefs weren’t the only ones cooking. The 6th graders helped pluck, chop, peel, mix, and – of course – sample along the way. Their final dish: a Johnnycake with smokey pimento cheese sauce and K Street Farm relish. 

This was the first time most of theses students had experienced the full cycle of farm to plate – harvesting raw ingredients in the garden, preparing a meal from scratch and eating it together with friends. Yet, the power of gardens and food education to teach life skills, share culture and bring people together was obvious from the start of the day’s activities. 

Our mission at DC Greens is to use the power of partnerships to support food education, food access, and food policy so that all students can have these kinds of experiences. As part of our effort to build an equitable, sustainable food system, we believe in putting food education on the menu in every District classroom. That’s why we deploy our Cooking Corps of healthy eating instructors to DC schools with mobile cooking carts and hands-on lesson plans. To expand our reach, we train DC teachers how to incorporate school gardens and food system knowledge into their curricula year-round. And, we help District youth develop entrepreneurial skills by running School Garden Markets that sell affordable local produce to nearby households. We also operate three thriving urban agriculture sites across DC - including the K Street Farm – and work to unite food-focused organizations in our community to promote smart food policy, identify solutions, and make the most of our shared resources. 

We know that the more opportunities young people have to positively engage with fresh fruits and vegetables, the more likely they are to adopt healthy habits that will last a lifetime. That's why programs that connect students with chefs can be so important: it provides an opportunity to introduce students to knowledge, skills and desire to become healthier eaters. We look forward to expanding upon and deepening these opportunities with ongoing chef visits, cooking demonstrations and taste tests throughout the school year, because it’s experiences like these that can spark a child's appreciation of good food and healthy eating for a lifetime.



Making school gardens accessible

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 29, 2015

By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate

School gardens are one of the three core elements of farm to school programs, and the benefits of these green spaces are endless. Gardens create positive learning environments, increase children’s willingness to try new fruits and vegetables, and serve as a valuable tool for engaging students in a number of academic subjects.  

Moreover, school gardens can be engaging learning spaces for all students. They function as interdisciplinary classrooms that welcome every type of learner, regardless of age or ability. Unlike traditional classrooms, school gardens help level the playing field for students with physical disabilities, learning and behavior challenges, and other special classroom needs by empowering everyone to contribute to the process of growing food from seed to harvest. 

But accessibility in the garden doesn’t only mean wider paths and raised beds. Designing your school garden as a space of exploration and learning for all students means paying attention to the details. Whether your school garden is well established or just in the planning phase, there are easy ways to make sure these green growing spaces are learning places for every student.  

We recently spotted this list of tips for creating accessible school gardens and garden activities on the National Gardening Association’s resource website, KidsGardening.org. Here are three of our favorite ideas that can be implemented at any stage of your school garden’s growth: 

  • Consider all five senses
    Tasty garden treats and visual beauty are top factors when picking out plants for any garden. But more of our senses can be engaged! Activate students’ sense of smell by planting edible flowers and highly fragrant herbs. Want students to experience the garden through touch? Incorporate a variety of plant textures – smooth, hairy, delicate, woody. And, don’t forget sounds! Add a wind chime, water feature or feeder to attract singing birds. 
  • Adapt garden tools
    Be intentional in making a variety of garden tools available for all body types and ability levels so that every student can contribute and learn in your school’s garden. Have tools of different lengths and sizes, of varying weights, and kneeling pads stocked in your shed. KidsGardening.org recommends having Velcro straps handy to secure tools to students’ arms, which can help distribute the weight and steady tools in their hands. 
  • Go vertical 
    For some students, reaching up may be easier than stretching out. There are lots of designs for vertical gardens that make the most of your available square footage on the ground and may be easier for some students to reach than traditional garden beds. Try vertical trellises for vining plants like cucumbers and squash, or plant a wall of leafy greens out of discarded wooden pallets. 

To learn more about starting and maintaining school gardens or incorporating school gardens into the classroom with lesson plans, check out the great resources available from our partners at SlowFood USA  and The Edible Schoolyard Project.

Are there ways you’ve made your school garden an accessible learning space for all? We’d love to hear about it! Share your ideas with us via our story form, or connect with us on Twitter and Facebook to let us know how your school garden is growing.  


Encouraging Future Farmers in North Carolina

NFSN Staff Friday, April 03, 2015

By Laura Fieselman, Executive Assistant

“I hope people will learn to revere farmers. And farmland too.” 
-North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler  

Farm to school doesn’t just happen in the cafeteria; it takes place in the classroom too. That was the case recently when North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, visited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as part of the university’s new Carolina Cooks, Carolina Eats initiative. The event afforded students an opportunity to interact with farm to school on a policy level, asking the Commissioner about North Carolina’s ports and the Department of Agriculture’s budget. It was also a chance for Commissioner Troxler to share what he’s most passionate about: farming. 


North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, speaks to students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

A farmer himself, the Commissioner is no stranger to teaching and instilling ag excitement in young people. Commissioner Troxler encouraged the class to consider agriculture as a career – and not just farming, but also processing, transportation and the science of crop development. As the local food movement continues to take hold with schools, colleges, hospitals, and other institutional buyers across the country, opportunities for new farmers and food businesses are expanding exponentially.  

The North Carolina Farm to School program has been serving fresh, local produce in the state’s lunchrooms since 1997. Originally a pilot project with strawberries, today the program has grown to serve tomatoes, zucchini, collards and sweet potatoes, along with blueberries, cantaloupes, apples, peaches and sprite melons. During the 2013-2014 school year, nearly a million dollars worth of North Carolina produce was served to the state’s students in farm to school programs. That’s a lot of food dollars reinvested in local and regional agriculture. 

The National Farm to School Network believes that vibrant local and regional food systems are essential for building healthy kids and healthy communities. In North Carolina, Troxler is helping students learn this in the classroom, and encouraging them to taste it too. 

Learn more about how farm to school is a win for kids, win for farmers and win for communities here.   






We’re with Blue: Know your food, know your source

NFSN Staff Wednesday, March 04, 2015

By Stacey Malstrom, Public Relations & Outreach Manager

We’re joining with One Percent for the Planet and some of our favorite organizations (think Chef Ann Foundation, Farm Aid, Honest Tea and more…) to talk about the importance of knowing where your food comes from as part of the Blue Needs You to Know Your Source campaign. Local food not only tastes better because it’s fresh, it also supports a strong local economy, jobs in your community and a smaller environmental footprint. 

Across the board, kids who know their food are more likely to eat their food. Who isn’t curious to taste a carrot they just pulled out of the ground or meet the farmer who grew their lunch? The more positive experiences children have with healthy foods, the more they acquire a taste for them. Farm to school activities like school gardens, taste tests, cooking classes and farm field trips are building a new generation of informed, healthy eaters. 

That’s why we’re working in D.C. to make sure more farm to school programs across the country benefit from the Child Nutrition Act, which is up for reauthorization this year. Learn more and sign our letter to Congress asking them to continue support for farm to school success with the Farm to School Act of 2015. 

Together we can build strong local food systems and empower children and families to make informed food choices.

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