Farm to Belly Addresses Food Equity with Kids in Greenville, South Carolina
By Anna Defendiefer, Communications Intern
One of the most important goals to consider when encouraging farm to table practices is providing families and children from all communities with equitable access to nutrition, wholesome foods. A project called “Farm to Belly,” led by coordinator Kerry McKenzie, is making great headway in cultivating food equity in the Greenville, South Carolina community, specifically focusing on early care and education (ECE) initiatives. I had the opportunity to speak with Kerry about the success of the Farm to Belly program, her plans for the future, and about addressing food equity in our own communities.
A collaboration of the Greenville Health System, SHARE Head Start, and the advocacy group Feed & Seed, Farm to Belly aims to curb obesity and increase the accessibility and affordability of healthy food in low-income areas. To do so, Farm to Belly brings farmers markets and pre-made recipe bags to four different Head Start child care centers on a rotating basis, serving over 450 children and their families. Children and their caregivers can shop for foods that they are then encouraged to eat, cook, and discuss together.
Farm to Belly is a project of Choosy Kids, a company “devoted to promoting health in young children and their families.” Choosy Kids provides classroom intervention and family engagement materials that can be used in tandem with the farmers markets and recipe bags to further encourage healthy habits. A life-size mascot named Choosy – which stands for for Choose Healthy Options Often, Start Young – visits Head Start centers during Farm to Belly activities, interacting with children and giving a friendly face to healthy foods. Kerry, who co-created of the mascot during her time at West Virginia University, says that Choosy has been a fantastic motivator for children in getting excited about fruits and vegetables and developing healthy eating habits. She emphasizes that it’s most important to establish those habits early in life, and that’s why she’s passionate about building a program specifically for children in the ECE setting.
In order to adequately serve the hundreds of children and families Farm to Belly assists, Kerry continuously works with local South Carolina farmers to provide the produce needed for the markets. She employs individuals with special needs to package the recipe bags, and uses the help of generous volunteers and in-kind services to deliver the recipe bags and produce for farmers markets. Volunteers also help to maintain four established gardens in the area. Kerry continuously strives to make her model sustainable, like a “well-oiled machine.”
Affordability and accessibility can often present barriers when encouraging healthy food consumption in low-income areas, and Farm to Belly aims to encourage healthy habits beyond just in their visits to Head Start Centers. In her efforts to address food inequity on a larger scale, Kerry is actively leading efforts to collect data from Farm to Belly participants - both children and parents - indicating the fruits and vegetables they consume and cook most often. Kerry then presents this data to local convenience stores, encouraging them to carry l the most popular foods (currently vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts). Kerry explains that while it can be difficult to convince these stores to carry perishables that they haven’t historically sold, providing them with solid numbers can present a convincing argument. Kerry started these efforts by working with a Greenville gas station called Spinx, and is planning to work with more convenience stores in the near future.
Moving forward, Kerry plans to focus her efforts in collecting and presenting that data, in order to make buying healthier foods easier for the whole community. She also continues to perfect the Farm to Belly model, and aims to expand first within the Greenville area, then in other cities and states. When asked about how to address food inequity in our own communities across the nation, she said that education for both children and parents is the first place to start; informing individuals about the positive health benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables can be a key motivator. Kerry also explained multiple detailed visions she has for communities to address food insecurity in the future, including a “Choosy-mobile” and mobile markets that deliver produce in food deserts.
Kerry is not only running a program that is currently helping hundreds of families, she is also continuously looking to the future. I found that incredibly inspiring. The Farm to Belly program can be a model for communities looking to address food equity; Kerry’s enthusiasm and dedication can be a model to all leaders working to advance and strengthen our food system.
Intertribal Agriculture Council Selected As 2019 NFSN National Partner of the Year
As a national organization uniquely situated at the intersection of numerous sectors and communities, networking and partnership building are at the core of the National Farm to School Network’s efforts. Partnerships are integral to our success, and are essential to the growth and long-term sustainability of the farm to school movement. That’s why our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan includes a key goal to facilitate expanded engagement in farm to school through new and diverse partnerships and promotion, including the designation of a “National Partner of the Year.” Through intentional programmatic collaboration, resource sharing and cross-promotion, we aim to both educate our members about the work of national partners, and increase knowledge of farm to school and our organization in diverse sectors.
This year, we are pleased to announce the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) as our 2019 National Partner of the Year. The IAC is a non-profit, Tribal membership organization, serving all tribal producers and communities across the country, established in 1987 to pursue and promote conservation, development and use of Indian agricultural resources for the betterment of Indian communities. The IAC is recognized as the most respected voice within the Indian community and government circles on agricultural policies and programs in Indian Country, and it conducts a wide range of programs designed to further the goal of improving Indian Agriculture, land management, cultural food systems, and local and international marketing.
A key area of the IAC’s programmatic focuses is cultivating Native youth leaders. Youth leadership development opportunities provided by the IAC - including local, regional and national events - expose Native youth to land conservation and stewardship, traditional food preparation and preservation, agricultural production planning, entrepreneurial business ventures in food and agriculture, and resource management as a community development tool. While Native youth have always been a part of the IAC, efforts to focus on youth programming continue to formalize, and at the 2017 IAC Membership Meeting, the Native Youth Food Sovereignty Alliance (NYFSA) was formed.
National Farm to School Network has partnered with Native communities since early 2014, with an aim to gain a deeper understanding of the unique food access challenges Native communities face and identify and pursue viable solutions to overcome barriers to implementing farm to school. In partnership with numerous tribal communities and organizations, we’ve been learning that with a community-based and multi-generational framework, farm to school can be a nexus of economic development, food sovereignty, health and nutrition, and cultural revitalization. We’re excited to further this work in our year-long partnership with the IAC. Together, we’ll be exploring programmatic and policy advocacy collaborations, attending each other’s trainings and events, supporting youth leadership development, sharing out key learnings and resources, and promoting ways for our members to get involved in this work.
Learn more about the Intertribal Agriculture Council on their website or social media sites:
Stay tuned for opportunities to learn more about the IAC and dig into this partnership with us throughout 2019!