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News

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.

Community-wide Discovery

NFSN Staff Monday, December 01, 2014

By Chelsey Simpson, Communications Manager


This young man takes his peas very seriously. Now his mom does, too. 

Farm to school is all about discovery: Kids discover new fruits and vegetables, the magic hiding in tiny seeds and the wonderful things they can accomplish with their own two hands. 

But kids aren’t the only ones learning new things. When children are introduced to new foods through farm to school practices, they bring those new experiences home, which can have a positive impact on the way families eat and the way communities relate to agriculture. Here are three stories about parents and teachers who made farm to school discoveries of their own. 

Peas, please

This year we had garden camps for students K-12, which helped us make use of the school garden in the summer, when Alaska’s growing season is most intense. There were many lessons and activities around food and nutrition, how to garden, and cooking fresh produce, but my favorite part of the camp was discussing what kids eat with their parents. One mother was assuring me that her child never eats veggies, especially raw. At that moment her son was hiding in the pea patch, eating peas. When he came over, his pockets were stuffed with peas. She realized that not only will he eat fresh vegetables, he LOVES them, and they are as easy to offer for a snack as chips or candy. 

– Danny Sparrell, Calypso Farm and Ecology Center in Ester, Alaska 

A taste of home

I work in several schools in the Atlanta area teaching nutrition lessons and leading school garden maintenance. My first day in a particular second grade class, I brought in figs, thinking they would be something exciting that the kids had never seen before. 

While they were working on an assignment, I quietly brought out the figs and sliced them in half so the kids could get the full effect, thinking I was about to hand them something that would blow their minds. One by one they came up and took a fig, then sat back down to eat it. 

Many of the kids at that school are Hispanic, and a lot of them had spent time in Mexico. When I asked the class if they liked their figs and why, more than one said, “there are fruits like these in Mexico, but we don't call them 'fig.’” They had not had them at all since being in the U.S. They ate them quickly and asked for more! 

So the fruit that I've heard American kids call “alien fruit” was a sweet taste of home for the students at this particular school. 

– Sarah Dasher, FoodCorps member serving with Captain Planet Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia 

Farmer or physics teacher? 

One of the most vivid memories I have from my farm to school experience was when we went to Berggren Demonstration Farm in Springfield, Ore. 

I watched as Farmer Angela passed around a basket of tomatoes and asked each student to take one. Then, she asked what was happening as the tomato was being broken down. She discussed the mechanics, how saliva powerfully dissolves food in our mouths. Next, she asked students to tell her what things are essential to our bodies, and she talked about vitamins and minerals. She even worked in a physics lesson, explaining that matter can never be created, nor destroyed. 

On that trip, I realized that it wasn’t just the children who were excited by farm to school programs; farmers are excited, too!

– Karina Shea, intern for Willamette Farm and Food Coalition in Eugene, Oregon

Students who are involved with farm to school consume 0.99 - 1.3 more servings of fruits and vegetables throughout their day, both at school and at home. The fact that they bring their healthy habits home is one of the many reasons farm to school is a community health issue, not just an education issue. To learn more about the benefits of farm to school, download our benefits fact sheet

These stories were shared with us during National Farm to School Month in October, a time to celebrate the efforts of school nutrition specialists, teachers, farmers, policymakers and concerned eaters like you who are building strong local economies and shaping the next generation of healthy eaters. Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back, and we ask you to join us with a donation to the National Farm to School Network to support the growth of programs across the country connecting kids and schools with local food and food education. 

Donate Now

First Graders Don’t Care about Michelin Stars

NFSN Staff Friday, November 21, 2014

By Jaime Lockwood, Development Director

Chefs have played a significant role in the farm to school movement since Alice Waters started the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley. And as the movement has grown, so has their impact. From Tom Colicchio testifying in Congress for improved child nutrition standards to the Chef Action Network Boot Camp for Policy and Change, celebrity chefs across the country are activating their notoriety and influence to propel the conversation about kids and healthy food into the mainstream.

But on a recent visit to New York, I was reminded that chefs bring more than a high-profile name to this fight. At the James Beard Foundation Food Conference, I met Michael Anthony, a Chefs Boot Camp graduate and the Executive Chef and Partner at Gramercy Tavern in New York City. Upon hearing that I work for the National Farm to School Network, he excitedly shared how he and his team at Gramercy Tavern and its sister restaurants volunteer at P.S. 41 in Manhattan, teaching cooking and nutrition to first grade students.

From left to right: Chef Michael Anthony, Chef Alex Guarnaschelli and Chef Bill Telepan
(Photo courtesy of Wellness in the Schools)

Michael connected with P.S. 41 through Wellness in the Schools (WITS), an organization co-founded by Nancy Easton and Chef Bill Telepan of Telepan Restaurant to “inspire healthy eating, environmental awareness and fitness as a way of life for kids in public schools.” Since 2005, WITS has been harnessing the creativity, energy and dedication of chefs to create a huge presence in NYC public schools. Their Cooking for Kids program enlists 26 chefs to participate in cooking and nutrition education programs in schools across all five boroughs of New York City.

A few days later, I found myself at P.S. 84 Brooklyn in Williamsburg, warmly greeted by Ting Chang, a registered dietician and WITS Program Coordinator, and Chef George Weld of Egg, a tiny Williamsburg restaurant with a huge reputation. Ting explained how WITS tries to introduce chefs to schools in their own communities, helping connect local residents, schools and businesses. Chef George is not only a local business owner; he is a resident who sends his own children to P.S. 84 and is invested in ensuring children have every opportunity to access healthy food and develop knowledge around good eating habits. His business partner Evan Hanczor is a graduate of Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, and together they are striving to make a difference in their community – both with adults and the increasing number of children who live in their thriving neighborhood.

As Chef George helped students at P.S. 84 prepare a kale, apple and couscous salad, I couldn’t help but think how these 7 and 8-year-olds had no idea that he has been written up in The New York Times. But they could sense his interest in them and his enthusiasm for the fresh, healthy food they were eating, and that positive experience is what builds kids’ interest and willingness to try new foods. As busy, successful chefs step up to the proverbial plate to use their skills, creativity and passion to change the health trajectory for children across the country, I ask, if we all approached farm to school creatively, utilizing our own skills (doused with the same patience and dedication), how many more children could we impact? 

Farm to Preschool with Pumpkins

NFSN Staff Friday, October 31, 2014

Guest post by Brittany Wager, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project 

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project serves as the Southeast Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 


One by one, preschool students at Fairview Head Start in Jackson County, North Carolina removed handfuls of pumpkin seeds and examined them carefully before washing them in bowls of water and preparing them to roast.

Christina Shupe, the leader for the activity, answered their inquiries about the different varieties of local pumpkins she had brought to their school that day. “It looks like a spider web in there,” one student commented when she looked down into the pumpkin. “Where’s the spider?”

Christina is a junior at Western Carolina University’s Nutrition and Dietetics Program, and is in her second year of involvement with ASAP’s Growing Minds @ University project. The experiences at the "learning lab" sites and the training offered by ASAP builds the capacity of future nutrition professionals like Christina, as well as future teachers and health professionals, to incorporate local food and farm based experiences in their work.

The lesson began with students passing around a "mystery bag" containing miniature winter squash. They reached inside the bag, felt the items inside, and offered up guesses as to what it contained. “I think it’s a bird,” one student guessed. Christina opened the bag and explained to the students what was inside, and they had an additional opportunity to smell and touch the squash.

“After that we looked at the different varieties of local pumpkins I had brought with me,” said Christina. “The students voted as to which one they wanted to open up and look inside.”

After inspecting the inside of the pumpkin, they each reached in and got a handful of seeds, rinsed off the goo in water, and put them on wax paper to bake. “The kids seemed to really enjoy washing off the goo, they were very careful and deliberate about it and were really engaged in the activity,” Christina said. “And of course they wanted to know when they could eat the seeds!”

Experiences like these are having a positive impact on Head Start and elementary students, their families and the university students. In recent family surveys, 74 percent of respondents indicated that their child’s experiences with the project have had a positive impact on how their family eats and thinks about food. The teachers of the project’s elementary and Head Start schools report a substantial change in children’s willingness to try new foods and to eat healthy snacks and lunches. The teachers also report that the multi-faceted approach of farm to school benefits the children academically, nutritionally and socially.

Christina sees the value in the way the project is preparing her to be a leader in her career. “As a future dietitian I hope to continually work to educate all people on healthy and sustainable foods, as well as to provide people of all ages positive experiences with local and healthy produce.”

If you’d like to lead a pumpkin exploration activity with young children, check out the lesson plan Christina used on ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to School Program website.

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