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Kids need #realschoolfood – and farm to school is making it happen

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 11, 2016
By Emily Miller, Marketing & Education Manager, Chef Ann Foundation



Chef Ann Foundation is excited to be celebrating National Farm to School Month this October, paying homage to the hard work and dedication of food service professionals, farmers and educators across the country who are connecting their communities with with fresh, healthy and local food. As an organization that also works to spearhead school food reform and transition our nation’s schools to scratch cooking with fresh ingredients, it’s inspiring and invigorating to see how the farm to school movement has exploded over the past decade. 

At its core, farm to school is teaching our kids the importance of REAL food. Food that is grown from the earth, not manufactured in a laboratory. Food with names that you can pronounce, food that’s colorful, nutrient dense and delicious. The kind of food that provides the healthy fuel their minds need to learn and their bodies need to grow. The farm to school movement is helping to make real school food a national priority, which is a cause very near and dear to our hearts. 

In fact, we’ve launched our own awareness campaign with the same goal in mind: #RealSchoolFood. This month, we are calling on celebrities, chefs, farmers, schools, good food advocates and parents nationwide to bring attention to one key issue: our children deserve and desperately need REAL, unprocessed, healthy school food every day.

Why? Because childhood obesity and diet-related disease are crippling their futures. In America, one out of every three kids is overweight or obese, and at-risk for Type 2 Diabetes. This generation of children is predicted to have shorter life expectancies than their parents, primarily due to their diets. To make matters worse, many schools across the country are serving highly processed, heat-and-serve meals that reinforce the bad eating habits and food trends that have helped contribute to this crisis.   



Ensuring kids have access to healthy, fresh school food is a crucial part of the solution. More than 30 million children eat school lunch every day, and over 70% (22 million) of these kids come from impoverished households. The eating habits and food values they learn in childhood will follow them for the rest of their lives. So for now, while our kids are still young, and we’re still filling their lunch trays, we have an opportunity to shape the future. 

We need to help schools move away from the highly processed, heat-and-serve food trend and work with them to serve scratch cooked food made with fresh, locally procured ingredients. Instead of treating our children for diet-related diseases, we can make sure their diets prevent these illnesses from ever taking hold. Because when we make sure that our children’s meals are cooked with real food, instead of food additives and chemicals, we set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits that help them grow, thrive, and achieve. 

The 2016 National Farm to School Month theme, One Small Step, is highlighting the simple ways anyone can get informed, get involved and take action to advance farm to school in their own communities and across the country. We invite you to participate in the #RealSchoolFood campaign as your small step. This is all you have to do:

1. Photograph yourself or your kids holding a “#realschoolfood” sign.

2. Post the photo to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (privacy settings set to public) with this caption: 30 million kids eat school lunch every day. It's time we served them #realschoolfood. Join the campaign now: realschoolfood.org (Or, visit the  campaign page for other suggestions).

For every person who posts using “#realschoolfood” in October, the campaign sponsors will donate $1 towards healthy school food programming for kids across the country. This is an incredible opportunity to raise awareness and work together to ensure that school food reform and farm to school keep moving forward. 

If we all spread the word, the louder the call-to-action becomes and the more likely that change can and WILL happen. Stand with us and the National Farm to School Network in the fight for real school food and join the campaign today! 


Founded in 2009 by Ann Cooper, a pioneer in the fields of school food reform and child nutrition, Chef Ann Foundation is a national non-profit that provides school communities with tools, training, resources and funding to create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments. To date, we’ve reached over 7,000 schools and 2.6 million children in all 50 states. To learn more about our healthy school food programming, visit www.chefannfoundation.org.

Schools Celebrate National School Lunch Week with Farm Fresh Produce

NFSN Staff Monday, October 10, 2016
By Becky Domokos-Bays, PhD, RD, SNS
School Nutrition Association President and Supervisor of School Nutrition Services for Loudoun County Public Schools, Va.


Dr. Domokos-Bays (right) joins kindergarten students at Loudoun County’s Fredrick Douglass Elementary in harvesting lettuce from their school garden. The School Nutrition Services team prepared the lettuce into salads for their classroom. (Photo credit: Rick Brady)

School nutrition professionals have always been passionate about serving students healthy meals that contribute to academic success. Now that federal nutrition standards require every school meal to include larger portions of fruits and vegetables, we are utilizing more creative methods to encourage students to eat and enjoy these nutritious choices. As president of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), I've been thrilled to witness farm to school initiatives taking root in school cafeterias nationwide as part of this ongoing effort to help students adopt healthier lifestyles.
 
School nutrition professionals have embraced farm to school programs as an effective way to source more farm fresh, local produce and to get kids to try these choices by teaching them about the healthy foods grown in their communities. A recent SNA survey of nearly 1,000 school meal program operators revealed that 57% of school districts offer locally sourced fruits and vegetables with school meals - up from 52% just two years ago. Meanwhile, nearly 50% of respondents have implemented farm to school initiatives to promote healthier choices in the cafeteria, up from 37.5% in the 2014 survey. School nutrition professionals also reported widespread use of student taste tests, chef partnerships, and salad or produce bars – all effective methods for increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables.
 
During National School Lunch Week (October 10-14), schools nationwide will showcase these ongoing efforts. At Loudoun County Virginia’s Kenneth Colbert Elementary, students will have the chance to meet Ellen Polishuk, a farmer from nearby Potomac Vegetable Farms. Ellen will autograph her farmer trading cards for students as they enjoy their school lunches. Our school nutrition department worked with the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development to design twelve different farmer trading cards, which were released on the opening day of baseball season – also declared the first day of growing season! The cards have offered a fun way to teach students about the people who grow the local produce served in the cafeteria.
  


These cards have also helped to get kids excited about working and learning in Loudoun County’s school gardens. Local farmers are key partners in this effort too - Wegmeyer Farms in Hamilton, Virginia generously donated over 400 strawberry plants to our gardens this year, allowing students in 17 schools to learn outdoors with their teachers in the process of garden planting, tending and harvesting. The School Nutrition Services Team did our part to continue the learning in the cafeteria by hosting a “Taste it Thursday” strawberry taste test with students.
 
As a parent and a dietitian, I know kids sometimes need to try a new fruit or vegetable many times before they decide they like it, and that’s why partnerships between school nutrition professionals, farmers, teachers and parents are so important. Working together through farm to school initiatives, school garden projects, taste tests and nutrition education programs, we can all help promote life-long healthy eating habits for children.

"It Makes Me Think Twice"

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 06, 2016
By Betsy Rosenbluth, Project Director, Vermont FEED

 Photo credit: Vermont FEED
Farm to school activities can be a great way to engage young learners - especially kids who may not be fully engaged in the classroom. Sharon Elementary School in Sharon, Vt., has been using farm to school education for almost 10 years, and has developed a reputation for providing meaningful learning experiences to preK-6th grade students through a variety of place based experiences. Farm to school activities like digging into the school garden, farm visits, and nutrition education, are at the forefront of these experiences. 

Keenan Haley, a third grade teacher at Sharon, looks to engage students in learning activities that will meet current educational standards. “Engagement is the key. How do I engage all students in a way that is meaningful and productive? Educators are always looking for ‘the topic’ that will spark a student’s interest, ‘the topic’ that will engage student in reading, writing, math, social studies, science, art, music, PE and other disciplines. I've found that farm to school education, along with overall health and wellness education, is THE topic.” 

Through the lens of food and agriculture, students at Sharon design gardens, assess the value of local compared to nonlocal foods, calculate carbon footprint, measure caloric intake, use measuring skills while cooking, and practice business planning as opportunities to apply their mathematical learning. In science, students study the chemical makeup of certain foods and their interactions with the human body. In social studies, students study the history of foods and their impact on culture. If the possibilities seem endless, it’s because they are.

Barrett Williams, the principal of Sharon, acknowledges how farm to school has helped all students feel successful. “Students who struggle in a traditional classroom setting generally thrive when concepts are taught and reinforced through a variety of modalities that allow students to touch, feel, and create.  At the same time, high functioning students can be challenged to think about content in much greater depth. Regardless, the outcomes are similar in nature, with students developing a sense of ownership of the work they have completed.  Ultimately, this format and structure allows educators to address perhaps the most important lesson we teach, which is social responsibility and citizenship.”

This sense of ownership is also at the core of the Vermont Jr Iron Chef competition, now coming up on its 10th year of challenging middle and high school students to create healthy, local dishes that inspire school meal programs. More than 3,000 Vermont teenagers have participated in this culinary competition, where they’ve learned healthy cooking skills, how to source local food, develop their own recipes, and work as a team to prepare a dish for an annual competition with 60 other school teams.  

Twin Valley High School in the small town of Wilmington, Vt., brings home a ribbon almost every year.  Head coach Lonnie Paige, Food Service Director for the school, thinks one key to their success is that students have ownership over the process. The event has become so popular that the school now hosts its own qualifying event to determine which teams will go on to the statewide competition. The runoff is a large, community-supported event. “I get local chefs and celebrities to be the judges,” Paige explains. “Parents volunteer as runners and assist with whatever else needs to be done.” Teams also visit local farms and food producers. “We show them how things are grown and made,” Paige continues. “They experience for themselves how much better local food is.”  

Hands on learning - whether growing food in a school garden, cooking in the Junior Iron Chef competition, or running taste tests in the cafeteria, all have in common a focus on student driven change and transformation of school culture. As one high school student so eloquently said about farm to school when testifying in the Vermont Statehouse, “It makes me think twice. Think twice about where my food came from, what it does for my body and what it takes to get it on my plate.” This is the transformation we desire for every child.


Read more stories about the value of farm to school education at vermontfarmtoschool.org/farm-school-stories

Learning garden grows food, curiosity and creativity

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 05, 2016
By Ariel Bernstein, Farm to School and Education Fellow
 


The idea to grow a school garden at Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, was first sprouted in Stacey Steggert’s special education class. Inspired by a book about a diverse cast of characters cultivating a community garden, her students were the first advocates of turning school grounds into an edible landscape. They began with potted plants in the classroom, which quickly turned into two raised beds in the school’s courtyard. As the first crops grew, so did students’ enthusiasm, and soon their small garden plot began to expand and capture the entire school’s attention. Now in its fourth year, the Audrey Stout Learning Garden is growing more than just plants; it’s nourishing academic engagement, inspiring creativity and sprouting young community leaders. 

Covering all 6,400 square feet of the high school’s center courtyard, the Audrey Stout Learning Garden is designed with multidisciplinary education in mind. The space is divided into four geographically-inspired sections: Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, each growing crops, herbs and flowers that can be found on these continents. In the Europe section, the German class grows cabbage and learns to make sauerkraut. On the Americas side, there’s a salsa garden with tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos for Spanish classes to explore cultural flavors. The African garden includes a patch of Arundo Donax, better known as African Reed Cane, that students harvest and transform into handmade paper. Plum trees, shiitake mushrooms and Chinese red noodle beans grow in the Asia garden. And to top it off, nine espaliered apple and pear trees grow in the garden, adding to the uniqueness of this beautiful and lush courtyard.

Throughout the space, the creative handiwork of art students can be seen in handcrafted tile benches and innovative wire sculptures. A Shakespeare class made connections to the garden by planting an “Ophelia garden” with rosemary, columbine, and daisies after reading Shakespeare's Hamlet.  Math classes use the garden to practice calculating area and put algebraic equations into real-life application. The SEEDS (Service, Environmental Education, Diversity, Sustainability) student club turns garden produce into canned goods that have won multiple ribbons at the country fair. And all students get to benefit from the garden’s fresh, healthy harvests, which occasionally are featured in school meals. 
The garden’s connection to healthy eating is one that’s especially important to Paula Damm, Shaker Heights High School nurse and co-leader of the Audrey Stout Learning Garden. “Health promotion is key in my role as school nurse, and promoting the garden promotes health,” she says. She’s seen first hand that when  students are excited about growing fresh food, they’re excited to eat it. “One students was particularly excited about the peas, which she helped grow in the spring. While looking at the full grown pea pods on the trellis, she said to me, ‘I feel like these are my peas! I feel like I created them!’ And she did! She continued to talk about her love for those peas well after they were harvested.” 
The Shaker Heights community is extremely diverse, and there are many areas in the city where healthy food access is a challenge. As students learn to grow food, they become educated about the role urban gardening can have in building healthy communities, and how young people can make a difference in the wider food system. Steggert and Damm tell the story of one student who, after participating in a vocational training program at a grocery store, was especially struck by the differences in produce selections between stores in wealthier and lower income communities. “Why don’t they think poor people like nice food?” he reflected. His gardening experiences at Shaker Heights High gave him the tools to make connections and observations about the food system, and has empowered him to become an advocate for healthy food in his own community. 
In the Audrey Stout Learning Garden, learning has no limits. This garden space provides students with unparalleled opportunities to experiment, to take risks, to make unexpected connections and to grow as leaders. As Steggert and Damm say, “It’s a learning garden!” There are no mistakes or failures, only opportunities to try new approaches and, well, learn! From planting to growing, from to eating to leading, the lessons taught in this school garden are more than just academic. These students are being shaped into well-rounded, reflective, and goal-oriented people who, throughout the process, are eating healthy!


Learn more about the Audrey Stout Learning Garden on Facebook and Tumblr

Beet Hummus Bravery

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 04, 2016
By Zack Silver, FoodCorps Service Member serving at the United Way of Passaic County in Paterson, New Jersey


Photo Credit: FoodCorps
Judah hated food. Well, that isn’t entirely true - he did eat some things. Cheerios in the morning if they didn’t touch any milk and he didn’t have to see nearby bowls of fruit. Plain pasta for lunch with no protein, veggies, or sauce. Snacks, but only crackers. On the days that the Center for Family Resources (CFFR) in Wayne, N.J., offered other meal options like yogurt or stir fry, Judah didn’t complain or bawl like some of his 4-year old classmates, or ask for alternatives. He simply sat in silence and watched his classmates eat. If I tried to put banana on his plate or serve steamed broccoli, that’s when the waterworks would begin.

However, as I started showing up often to CFFR to teach farm to school classes, presenting students with locally grown apples or inviting them to lay fresh compost on our garden’s raised beds, Judah became more trusting of me. When he watched his classmates cook new fruits and vegetables, from school-grown kale to exotic pomegranate and kiwi, he became reluctantly intrigued by these foods. A few months into the year, he progressed to allowing new food on his plate although he assured me he wouldn’t taste it, but would instead prod it with his fork and fingers when I asked him to, so he could feel the mushiness of a raspberry or the hardness of a rainbow chard stalk. These gestures were the first of many small steps Judah would take on his journey towards nutritional enlightenment.

Unfortunately for Judah, the final unraveling of his stubbornness was my blender. I brought it to class to make smoothies, salsa, and dip and its arrival was heralded with cheers from my preschoolers that would make a football stadium shake - it became the harbinger of fun and symbol for tasty produce. During classes, students would go in a circle to measure and add ingredients to blend, then line up for the coveted job of pressing the button and feeling the vibration under their fingers while classmates screamed in joy. Judah loved pressing the blender button. He reveled in his classmates’ yelps and stood triumphant as he made healthy treats.

Although Judah tried to resist, it was impossible to harvest a vegetable from his own garden, clean it tenderly, blend it with other ingredients, and still not want to taste it. And finally, one day in late spring, Judah succumbed. Our homemade beet hummus lay resplendent on his plate made from chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, and beets that he had pulled from the soil minutes before and chopped with a plastic knife. Judah gingerly dipped a pita chip into the magenta mass and brought it up to his lips where he stuck out his tongue and dabbed it with what was microscopically the smallest amount of food that could be considered “tasting.” He took another chip and a larger dab. I felt like I was at the top of a roller coaster, climbing inch by inch - I didn’t know when it was going to drop.

Five minutes later, I was spooning second helpings of beet hummus onto Judah’ plate, as he told me that “it tastes like raw candy!” To a preschooler that might be a standard compliment; to me, it was the highest praise I’ve ever received. The techniques that charmed Judah’s palate are helpful for kids at all levels of fruit and vegetable familiarity - they applaud courage, encourage taking just the smallest of steps, and help children find a new “yum” they never thought they could have.


FoodCorps is a national service organization that recruits, trains, and places AmeriCorps members to serve in high-need schools to connect kids to healthy food in school. Serving alongside educators and community leaders in 18 states, corps members focus on delivering hands-on lessons in gardening, cooking, and tasting healthy food; improving school meals; and encouraging a schoolwide culture of health.

National Farm to School Month 2016: One Small Step

NFSN Staff Monday, October 03, 2016
By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate



National Farm to School Month is here! For the next four weeks, millions of students, educators, farmers, families and food-enthusiasts around the country will be celebrating food education, school gardens and lunch trays filled with healthy, local ingredients. This annual celebration was brought to life by Congress in 2010 in order to raise awareness of the importance of farm to school as a means to improve child nutrition, support local economies and educate communities about the origins of their food. Everyone can join the festivities!  

Farm to school is a grassroots movement powered by people like you, who have taken small steps in their communities to bring more local food sourcing and food and agriculture education to our nation’s children. And those small steps have created big impact. The farm to school movement has grown from just a handful of schools in the late 1990s to reaching more than 23.6 million students nationwide today, with schools investing more than $789 million in their communities by purchasing local products from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and other food producers and growing 7,101 school gardens.

That’s why this October, we’re celebrating the small steps that everyone can take to get informed, get involved and take action to support farm to school in their communities and across the country. Because together, we can keep this movement growing! Here’s how you can get involved and celebrate National Farm to School Month: 

  • Take the pledge: Pledge to take one small step for farm to school this October, and you’ll be entered into our sweepstakes to win support for farm to school activities at the school or early care and education site of your choice. Take the pledge today!
  • Read inspiring stories: Visit our blog all month long to read inspiring stories of farm to school success and innovation. Guest blog posts include FoodCorps, School Nutrition Association, USDA Office of Community Food Systems, Chef Ann Foundation, National Young Farmers Coalition and many more! 
  • Spread the word: Share your farm to school successes with the world! Join our online conversation and tell us what small steps you’re taking this October. Use the hashtags #farmtoschool and #F2SMonth in your social media posts. 
  • Explore resources: Check out our free resources for planning and promoting celebrations in your community, including customizable posters and bookmarks, stickers, activity suggestions and communications tools. 
  • Donate to support our work: Invest in the future of farm to school. Donate to the National Farm to School Network and help us bring farm to school to communities across the country every month! Take one small step and make a charitable donation today. Take one small step and make a charitable donation today
We want to know: what small steps will you take this month? Share with us by taking the pledge! In addition to entering our sweepstakes, everyone who takes the pledge will receive weekly email suggestions of small steps to support farm to school in their community. Check out some of the small steps people across the country will be taking:  

Partnering with our local dairy. Our students will be naming a calf and we will be showcasing where our milk comes from. - Pennsylvania 

Our preschoolers will harvest the plants they’ve tended to all summer, and will learn how to prepare healthy meals with the food they have grown. - New Mexico 

Open our farm for tours with students. - Oklahoma 

Hosting a legislator in the lunch room visit. - Oregon

Our journalism students will go on local radio and write for the local paper, providing farm fresh recipes and nutritional tidbits. - Tennessee 

We will have lessons on how science is related to growing food. Soil, minerals, water cycle and weather will be taught in relation to growing food. - Florida 

Educating myself on this topic, so I can educate others in my community. - Ohio

Whatever steps you take, know that you are part of a movement that’s creating positive change by growing healthy eaters, supporting local agriculture and building vibrant communities. That’s worth celebrating!   

Thank you to this year’s National Farm to School Month sponsors, Captain Planet Foundation, Farm Aid, Organic Valley and High Mowing Organic Seeds, as well as the 200+ Outreach Partner organizations who 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! 

Roundup: Farm to School Month 2015

NFSN Staff Friday, October 30, 2015

This week's Farm to School Month blogs are sponsored by the Orfalea Foundation School Food Initiative, which has empowered campus food service operations to serve fresh, healthy school meals; installed school gardens; launched food literacy programs; and assisted school districts in their aspirations to become centers of health and wellness. The Orfalea Foundation applauds the efforts of National Farm to School Network and is proud to be a sponsor of Farm to School Month. 

 Photo credit: Pioneer Elementary, Ashwaubenon, Wis.; photo submitted by Live54218

For the past 30 days, millions of schools, farmers and communities around the country have been celebrating the movement that’s connecting kids to fresh, healthy food and supporting local economies. From Maine to Alaska and everywhere in between, people are recognizing the power of farm to school to benefit people, planet and profit. That’s what National Farm to School Month is all about! 

At the National Farm to School Network, we’ve been leading Farm to School Month celebrations by sharing great stories of farm to school innovations, successes and impacts – like how schools are incorporating local, sustainably caught seafood into lunches and voices of youth who are leading the next generation in food activism. 

We also hosted a Big Day of Action to urge Congress to finish the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (CNR) and strengthen farm to school across the country. More than 400 people posted messages on social media about the positive impact farm to school has in their communities, and many made calls to their legislators to urge support for more farm to school in CNR. Thank you to everyone who joined in! See highlights here.

Regionally, students celebrated Farm to School Month with events like the Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch, which had more than 500,000 student participants across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio chomping into local apples. In the Midwest, thousands of students enjoyed fresh, healthy food with a “Midwest Menu” on October 22, featuring local chicken, vegetables, apples, and a whole grain side that showcased local autumn bounty.  

In fact, there have been Farm to School Month celebrations in every state this month. Governors in Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Utah made proclamations declaring October Farm to School Month in their states. Vermont encouraged kids to try new foods with “Taste Test Mania,” Georgia got kids to dig their hands in the soil with “Rooting for Carrots,” and Washington students sampled local food for Taste Washington Day. We could keep going! 

 Photo credit: Odom Elementary School, Moultri, Ga. 

Dozens of you sent in your farm to school stories, as well. We heard that 8th graders in Maine participated in a Jr. Chef Challenge, students in Alabama harvested sweet potatoes, and chefs visited schools in New Jersey. Thanks to all who shared their farm to school stories and joined our network this month! And, a special congratulations to our sweepstakes winners -  Jayne W., Jennifer K., Carol T.S. and Ally M.! 

Farm to school happens year-round, and there are 336 days to continue growing and strengthening the movement before Farm to School Month 2016.  Join our network to stay up-to-date on the latest stories, new resources, policy actions, and learning opportunities – like the upcoming 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, June 2-4, 2016 in Madison, Wis. Let's keep the momentum going!

Thank you to each of our Farm to School Month sponsors – Orfalea Foundation, Organic Valley, Aetna Foundation, Chartwells, Mamma Chia and Stand2Learn – and the 160+ outreach partner organizations that have helped make Farm to School Month 2015 a success.  

Youth for Healthy Schools

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 28, 2015
This week's Farm to School Month blogs are sponsored by the Orfalea Foundation School Food Initiative, which has empowered campus food service operations to serve fresh, healthy school meals; installed school gardens; launched food literacy programs; and assisted school districts in their aspirations to become centers of health and wellness. The Orfalea Foundation applauds the efforts of National Farm to School Network and is proud to be a sponsor of Farm to School Month. 
 Photo credit: Food Justice Collective 
Bottom photo: Ron Triggs at VEGGI Farmers' Cooperative 
By Ron Triggs, Grade 8, Edgar P Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy, New Orleans

I have always lived in a food desert, meaning fresh and healthy food options are not readily available where I live. Instead, there’s a gas station corner store down the street from my house where most people buy food. At school, I want to see more fresh, healthy, culturally relevant foods in our school lunches. The New Orleans student of color population is at risk when it comes to eating nutritious and culturally relevant school meals. In Orleans Parish, an alarming 83.8% of public school students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch compared to the national average of 48.1%. And, students eligible for free or reduced-priced are disproportionately students of color - 88.1% of eligible students are Black

During the 2012-2013 school year, I and other youth organizers from Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools surveyed students, staff, and administrators in New Orleans schools about their perceptions of school food. Most students reported that school food is critical to getting them through the school day, and that they care about access to fresh, healthy and local food.

Try putting yourself in a student’s shoes. Why do you think students of color struggle to get food that is nutritious, healthy, culturally relevant and tasty in their schools? Is it just because they’re low income or there a bigger problem? I think the problem is not only about giving students access to healthy food at lunch – which is important – but is a problem directly related to our food system. 

We operate in an economy that privileges profit over people. The people who grow our food work hard for a living, but the majority of dollars generated in the food system go to those at the top – not the farmers. It’s a system that benefits corporations, not people. 

To better address the root causes of these issues – which we know affect the quality of our school meals – I joined a group called the Food Justice Collective, a collaboration between Rethink and VEGGI Farmers’ Cooperative. The Food Justice Collective is a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic youth of color farming cooperative that shares the practice of collectively maintaining a farm plot as a way to unearth systems of racism and colonization that are at the root of why marginalized people lack access to healthy food, land and opportunities. Together, we’re working towards food sovereignty. 

We are engaged in farming to gain knowledge and skills to grow our own fresh, healthy, and culturally relevant food - the kind of food we are working to get in our schools. We are a ten member collective and we have invested our own money and time to make this collective work. We maintain and operate our own budget, purchase seeds and tools, and are developing relationships and an accountability structure necessary to carry out our farm plan.

In the Food Justice Collective, we practice cooperative economics: everyone works together with equal decision making power and ownership. We believe that by building a youth cooperative we can begin to rebuild a food system that guarantees money is invested within our own community, and that the quality of food available is our community is fresh, healthy, and culturally relevant. Our Food Justice Collective is a way for young farmers like myself to give my peers access the healthy food we really want. 

For us, food justice isn’t just about ending hunger or only about getting better school lunches. It’s about growing food naturally and being able to have food that is affordable, accessible and high quality. I would like to end with this Vietnamese proverb that we say at every Food Justice Collective meeting: 

An qua nho ke trong cay (in Vietnamese) 
Cuando comes fruta, recuerda quien planto el árbol (in Spanish) 
When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree. 


Kids Rethink New Orleans and VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative are partner organizations of Youth for Healthy Schools, a collaborative organizing network of 15 youth and parent organizations of color in 10 states. Youth for Healthy Schools builds youth power in organizing for healthy and fresh school meals and snacks, safe places to play and exercise, strong school food standards and wellness policies and school wellness centers. Learn more about Youth for Healthy Schools here. 
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