Farm to school is gaining momentum all over Arizona! The initiatives include school garden development, using the garden as an educational tool, policy work to address issues with procurement, grower requirements, cooking techniques, and regulations regarding compost and rainwater harvesting.
The Arizona Dept. of Education has a paid position for a farm to school/school garden coordinator. In turn, the coordinator has developed a 15-member advisory board that convenes representatives from state agencies, school districts, farm bureau, extension services, brokers, processors and farmers together once per quarter. The coordinator is organizing regular buyer/grower meetings to connect more local farmers to local schools. The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service is actively involved in promoting farm to school and school gardens as a part of their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program education initiatives.
More than 100 school gardens exist around the state. The Extension Service and groups like Local First Arizona are creating training programs to develop supply for farm to school, i.e. growing more growers, and increasing the capacity of existing growers to participate in the program. In addition, Tucson Village Farm, a program of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, is based on the seed-to-table concept. It teaches kids about where their food comes from and gives them knowledge and skills that will serve them for a lifetime.
Occidental College, working with the Leupp Family Farm and STAR Academy in Flagstaff, was awarded a FY 2014 USDA grant to develop a farm to preschool program serving Native American (Navajo) children. This hands-on program involves interaction of students and local farmers as well as developing greenhouses on the school campus in order to provide students with healthy, fresh, locally grown vegetables; teach cultural awareness; and preserve traditions. Community Food Bank in Tucson has expanded its work to provide emergency nutrition services to include building gardens in neighbors' backyards; offering nutrition, financial literacy and ESL classes to garden group members; and help get local food served in southern Arizona schools. They sponsor four farmers’ markets and a community farm as well. Prescott Unified School District was also awarded a FY 2014 USDA grant to develop a farm to school program in their area. FoodCorps workers in the Whiteriver Indian Community as well as in the T'ohono O’odham Community Action Program are helping community members address rampant nutrition-related (and poverty-related) medical issues by reintroducing native planting, foods and traditions. This is also a way of bringing generations together to work on a common cause — native food traditions.