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Captain Planet Foundation helps Learning Gardens grow

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 30, 2014

Guest post by Leesa Carter, Executive Director, Captain Planet Foundation 




Based on the critically-acclaimed animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) was co-founded in 1991 by media mogul Ted Turner and producer Barbara Pyle. Since then, CPF has played a critical role in helping to ensure that the next generation of business leaders and policy makers are environmentally literate citizens who leverage technology and information to manage and protect the air, land and water upon which all life depends.


CPF is a grant-making foundation that has distributed more than $2.5 million to over 1,800 hands-on environmental education projects with schools and youth-serving non-profits in all 50 U.S. states and 23 countries. More than 1 million children have directly participated in and benefited from these educational projects. In addition to its Small Grants Program, the Captain Planet Foundation also operates: Project Learning Garden (PLG), the Leadership Center, SAGES, Planeteer Clubs and a number of other science education initiatives that exploit the intersections between technology, innovation, the environment and personal action. 


In its first 20 years, CPF’s Small Grants Program funded over 750 school or community gardens, outdoor learning labs and pollinator gardens. Captain Planet Foundation’s innovative Project Learning Garden was developed using the best practices and models from those grantees in order to provide schools with strategies for building effective and sustainable garden-based learning programs. The goal of PLG is to: integrate school gardens with core subject lessons; connect gardens to school cafeterias; help students develop an affinity for nature and an early palate for fruits and vegetables; and increase teacher capacity for providing project-based learning for students.

"One key element often overlooked in getting kids to eat better is the importance of how they eat at school," says Kyla Van Deusen, CPF's Project Learning Gardens program manager. "Kids learn how to enjoy fruits, vegetables and salads as a part of lunch, and this program has a direct impact on developing their palates from an early age. That palate development can also have an impact on how their parents eat, home meal preparation and childhood obesity prevention. Parents often report that their children ask them to buy new vegetables at the grocery store after growing and cooking the veggies themselves as part of a school garden program. One five-year-old said she preferred eating raw Brussels sprouts in the garden to her sour gummy worm treat!"

Teachers at CPF Learning Garden schools receive hands-on training, garden-based lessons aligned to national standards, lesson kits filled with supplies, a schoolyard garden, a fully-equipped mobile cooking cart and summer garden management. By the end of 2014, the program will have 135+ PLG schools in public schools around metro-Atlanta and in a pilot program in Ventura County, Calif.

This Fall, FoodCorps came to Georgia and CPF was thrilled to be selected as a service site for four amazing service members: Andrea Blanton, Sarah Dasher, Lauren Ladov and Bang Tran. FoodCorps is providing support to Project Learning Garden schools by doing garden tastings with the mobile cooking cart, supporting teachers as they perform PLG lessons for the first time, working with cafeteria teams to encourage local procurement decisions, and connecting chefs and farmers to schools for future support of the PLG program.

Project Learning Garden lessons are available free and can be downloaded from the CPF website. CPF recently launched a partnership with Pratt Industries that will allow any U.S. elementary school (with an existing garden) to order the classroom lesson supply kits at cost – which is about $400 for 18 lesson kits (3 lessons per grade, K-5). Schools can also order the Project Learning Garden mobile cooking cart at cost (about $725 – shipping included).  

As part of our Farm to School Month sponsorship this year, CPF is donating the full-school lesson supply kits (K-5) and mobile cooking carts to five lucky, winning schools! Find all the contest details here. For more information about PLG or to order kits and carts, visit projectlearninggarden.com.

How can CNR 2015 support farm to school?

NFSN Staff Friday, October 17, 2014


Carrots for Ventura Unified School District, grown at Join the Farm.

Amy Grossman, executive director of Join the Farm, is in the market for a new delivery van. 

"Just in time for Farm to School Month, [our farm] had our largest delivery ever to the school district in the first week of October, maxing out the capacity of our delivery van," she explains. 

Large orders weren't always the norm for the small farm, which is a project of The Abundant Table, a California nonprofit. Everything changed after their county's school district was awarded a USDA Farm to School Grant.

"Farm to school sales now represent a significant portion of our business model and enabled us to take on more acreage and deliveries," Amy says. "Our farmers take enormous pride in knowing their produce is regularly on the cafeteria plates of more than 5,000 children in our county."

The success of Join the Farm is just one story from among the 139 USDA Farm to School Grants awarded in the first two years of the program. In the coming months, the National Farm to School Network and our partners will be telling more stories like these. That’s because in less than a year, a federal piece of legislation that supports farm to school and other child nutrition programs is set to expire. About every five years, in a process known as the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, Congress reviews and updates these programs. The most recent version—the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010—expires September 30, 2015. 

The Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (or CNR for short) authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, among others. The last CNR in 2010 was groundbreaking: For the first time, the legislation supported farm to school directly by providing $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program. A major victory for NFSN and farm to school champions across the country, this program funds competitive grants and technical assistance for farm to school activities that increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools. 

The process to reauthorize the USDA Farm to School Grants and other child nutrition programs has already begun. The CNR conversations have already started in the two congressional committees overseeing the process: the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and the House Education and Workforce Committee. The Senate Agriculture Committee held two CNR hearings this summer, including a hearing featuring Betti Wiggins, executive director in the Office of Food Services at Detroit Public Schools and advisory board member for NFSN. 

To prepare for the upcoming reauthorization, NFSN hosted nearly two-dozen CNR listening sessions over the last year-and-a-half to gather input from stakeholders. These listening sessions provided key input for the policies within CNR that would be most beneficial to the farm to school community. Here’s what we learned: 

In order to build on the USDA Farm to School Grant Program’s success, the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization must include increased funding for the program. Demand for the USDA Farm to School Grants outweighs the current available funding by more than 5 times. USDA received 718 applications in the first two years but was only able to fund 139. 

The scope of the program should be expanded beyond its current focus on K-12 schools to also include early care education settings. The first few years of life are formative years of life for developing healthy habits, and farm to preschool shows promising results for starting kids on the right path to lifelong wellbeing. 

The program’s scope should also be expanded for summer food service program sites and after school programs. 

The listening sessions provided ideas on how to improve farm to school in tribal communities, specifically including by connecting tribal communities with traditional, native foods grown and raised by tribal producers.

NFSN is partnering up with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to call upon Congress to provide additional mandatory funding for the grant program, both to address the tremendous demand but also to support the proposed expanded scope. For more information, check out the NFSN webinar on CNR and join our network. Let’s make sure the 2015 CNR further supports and strengthens farm to school initiatives! 

The people factor: Funding farm to school

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Guest post by Gary Matteson, The Farm Credit System 


Linking local farms and schools is about building a network of supply and demand. That sounds like a terribly sterile economics class lecture until you insert the “people” factor into it. Where farm to school is concerned, the people are kids, who are empowered to make better food choices and learn where their food comes from, and farmers, who are able to expand their market.

The long-term effect of farm to school is yet to be seen, but I speculate that getting local food into schools is a powerful way to maintain local communities. This applies both to supporting farm businesses that keep economic activity circulating in the region as well as the mindset of kids who grow up knowing that some of their food is local—and maybe even that a career in farming is something to pursue.

Farm Credit lends money to farmers so that they can operate successful businesses. Part of being a successful farm business is finding a place to sell what you grow. Farm to school increases access to markets for farmers and educates the community in the richness of having local food from local farms.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Farm Credit supports farm to school, since farm to school also helps farmers. But it may be a surprise that Farm Credit does this in different ways, in all sorts of communities. 

Here in Washington, DC, the Farm Credit organization known as CoBank gave two refrigerated trucks to the DC Central Kitchen. The trucks travel to auctions where local farmers sell their fruits and vegetables.  Those fruits and vegetables become part of the 2,500 meals provided daily to eight DC public and two private schools.  Another portion of what those trucks carry is taken to small “bodega” corner stores in communities where access to fresh produce is limited.  And, finally, those trucks carry some of the 5,000 meals a day that DC Central Kitchen prepares for the city’s homeless population.

In New Hampshire, Farm Credit East sponsored the second annual New Hampshire Farm to School conference, which brought together farmers, fishermen, teachers, school food service directors, non-profits and others to look at school gardens, composting, fundraising, institutional procurement, opportunities for new and beginner farmers, communications, and farm-based education and curricula.

 The Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Credit sponsored the Arkansas Grown School Garden of the Year Contest.  The winners were chosen from Arkansas schools, grades pre-K through 12, that had a school garden open during the 2013-14 school year.

These examples from around the country are all local efforts, aimed at improving local communities.  Farm Credit seeks to build public understanding of agriculture in many ways, and it often involves making connections between farms and schools.  Supporting farm to school programs is our way of keeping the “people” factor in mind, so that school kids, teachers, farmers and others can share knowledge, eat better and benefit the local economy at a scale that communities can absorb and learn from.

Gary Matteson works for the trade organization of the Farm Credit System in Washington, DC as Vice President, Young, Beginning, Small Farmer Programs and Outreach. A former farmer and agricultural entrepreneur, he now works in local foods and emerging markets.

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