Growing youth leaders in Philly
By Aunnalea Grove, Get HYPE Philly! Program Manager, The Food Trust
For the Get HYPE Philly! initiative, 10 nonprofit partners, led by The Food Trust, have come together to empower 1,000 youth leaders to improve the health of their schools and communities with a goal of reaching over 50,000 Philadelphia youth in 100 schools by January 2018. Through urban agriculture, physical fitness, nutrition education and work readiness, Get HYPE Philly! is helping to ensure that Philadelphia’s young people play a key role in building healthier communities and creating a healthier generation. This has created a true movement, with young people at the forefront as agents for healthy change in their communities.
Many of Get HYPE Philly!’s youth leaders are actively involved in improving access to local, fresh foods in their schools and communities. Students involved in the school wellness clubs known as HYPE (Healthy You. Positive Energy.) have the opportunity to visit local farms, start school gardens and advocate for healthy food sales in their schools. Youth leaders also support farm to school efforts by encouraging their peers to try local foods through marketing and taste tests in their schools. As one student said, “I joined HYPE because I wanted to help my friends make healthy food choices.” Youth leaders take lessons about healthy eating home to their families, too. HYPE student Priscilla says she has been able to influence her family with “more water, no soda in my refrigerator, whole wheat bread. My sister is a soda lover, so at first she was upset - but now she loves water.” After several visits to urban farms and farmers markets, Priscilla wants to continue to see change in her community: “We need at least one farmers market around my community.”
Through Get HYPE Philly! partners The Village of Arts and Humanities, Norris Square Neighborhood Project and Greener Partners, young people are learning about urban agriculture by growing their own fruits and vegetables and using them to teach peers how to cook healthy meals. Youth leaders run neighborhood farm stands, increasing access to healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods in North Philadelphia. They also donate the food they grow by running a free, CSA-style delivery program for senior community members and lead a community cooking classes at a local shelter.
In addition to working within their own schools and neighborhoods, Get HYPE Philly! has a Youth Leadership Council made up of a cohort of students from across the city whose goal is to promote healthy living and the development of sustainably healthy communities. These students advise on Get HYPE Philly! Collective programming, serve as youth philanthropists and advocate for policy change. In Get HYPE Philly!’s first year, the Youth Leadership Council chose to focus on urban gardening and healthy food access, and with funding from GSK, had the opportunity to award 18 local nonprofit organizations with a total of $51,000 in mini grants, many of which went toward supporting other youth-led urban farming programs.
Get HYPE Philly! brings people and organizations together to reach a common goal, empowering young people to lead healthier lives. For more information on Get HYPE Philly! or how to get involved, visit www.gethypephilly.org, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter @hypephilly.
Growing Together: Garden Brings Together Veterans and Children
By Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate, National Farm to School Network
Photos courtesy of Veterans Organic Garden
The Peach Tree Head Start Garden sure didn’t seem like much to look at when veteran John Johns first laid eyes on it. The abandoned piece of land, conveniently situated between the Ukiah Veterans Administration Clinic and Peach Tree Head Start in Ukiah, Calif., was covered in years of overgrowth and unsafe for anyone, let alone children to wander through. With the commitment and diligence of Garden Manager Johns and other enthusiastic veteran gardeners of Veterans Organic Garden, and the coordination and support of the Gardens Project of North Coast Opportunities, in a relatively short time, this land had transformed into a sanctuary of healing for local veterans and an exciting place of learning and growing for the children of Peach Tree Head Start.
The first step in the project was making the garden area safe enough for children to come into. Once this was accomplished, the planting could begin. Thanks to community donations and volunteer time, the garden soon started to fill with squash, tomato, cucumber, and pumpkin seedlings. The Head Start students were involved even from the very first stages of planting. The children started seedlings in the classrooms to plant in the garden and worked alongside veterans to plant pea seeds in the wooden barrels filled with donated soil and compost.
Planting together was just the start of many valuable experiences in the garden, for both the children and the veterans. Throughout the growing and harvest season, the children made regular trips to the garden to see how their plants were growing and to nibble from the garden’s bounty. Johns says the peas planted in the beginning of the season were a popular treat and the children ate them up like candy. He was also surprised to see how readily they gobbled up the spicy radishes.
Head Start families are gaining hands on experience, too. Garden work days bring together veterans, teachers, parents, and children of all ages to pull weeds, tend plants, and take home bags of fresh produce. The impact of the garden continues into the Head Start kitchen and into the homes of the VA clinic patients. An average of 125 pounds a week of fresh produce from the garden has been served to students in meals and snacks at the Head Start and given away at the VA clinic.
Johns sees significant benefits first hand for both veterans and children. The garden offers a place for mental and physical healing for veterans and empowers them with the opportunity to tend and manage their own plots. For Johns, the best part of the whole project is when the kids come up, hug him around the knees and thank him for gardening with them. Johns wants to engage even more veterans in this project so they can have that experience of admiration and appreciation.
The relationships developed in the garden are meaningful and impactful for the children, too. Johns sees the children looking up to the growers and seeing them as role models, which increases their appreciation for farmers and food in general. The children get to engage in the growing experience with all their senses, from the time that they are very small, allowing them to develop a deep understanding of how food grows and where it comes from. Johns also hopes that by getting children in the garden early, they will grow up excited about growing their own food and make gardening a life long habit.
The success of the garden is not going unnoticed in the community. After a recent newspaper article highlighted the project, several organizations reached out to offer donations, lands on which to start more community gardens, and partnership opportunities. Johns sees this positive response as testament to the importance and impact that a garden like this can have in the community. By bringing together veterans and the youngest gardeners in town, the garden is changing the community from the ground up.
Family farmers find success with farm to school in Nebraska
By Sarah Smith, Farm to School Lead, Center for Rural Affairs
Three years ago, family farmers Robert and Kristine Bernt of Clear Creek Organic Farm weren’t sure what to make of farm to school. They were part of a gathering of food producers, rural organizations and food advocates who joined the Center of Rural Affairs at a fire hall in Ord, Neb., to discuss farm to school efforts happening in the region. And they, along with others around the table, were concerned that the perceived complexities of selling local products to school cafeterias would limit farm to school activities in the state.
But thanks to the dedication of numerous farm to school champions like those gathered that day in the fire hall, these concerns have significantly diminished. Interest and buy-in from both schools and farmers have soared, and new connections and partnerships are on the rise across Nebraska. Schools are hosting special lunch events and showcasing products such as local beef; school greenhouses and agriculture education are expanding into edible education; school gardens are growing in afterschool programs; and farmers like the Bernt’s are finding success in selling their products to schools.
As these farm to school efforts have grown, so has interest from school nutrition professionals to learn more about how the food they serve to students makes it from farm to cafeteria. So at a recent Nebraska School Nutrition Association meeting, the Bernt’s hosted a tour of their family farm operation. More than 60 attendees toured Clear Creek’s fields of vegetables, explored high tunnels and greenhouses, learned about chicken tractors and saw hogs and cows out on pasture. They toured the farm’s dairy processing facility for making cheese, ice cream and butter. And, they learned about the new onsite, and almost fully constructed, meat-processing plant.
Farm tours are great experiential learning opportunities for both youth and adults, alike. The folks who toured Clear Creek that day saw how edible corn roots differ from the miles of corn planted along Nebraska’s highways; they felt and tasted the brightness of several different varieties of fresh beans, like pinto and kidney; and learned the value of planting crops in rotation and incorporating cover crops. They tasted the difference in foods picked at the peak of perfection, and experienced how these fresh foods are packed with rich nutrients and flavor.
They also heard first hand from Robert Bernt how farm to school efforts positively affect family farmers. When Robert started farming on his 700 acres, he and his dad grew commodity crops that provided an income for two families. Today, they’ve diversified their farm and operations and are finding success in selling to institutional markets, including schools. In addition to fresh produce, the Bernt’s create value added products, like turning milk into cheese and freezing green beans for offseason sales, that schools have shown great interest in purchasing. The farm’s same 700 acres are now profitable enough to support four to five families, and have allowed several of the Bernt’s adult children to return to the farm and work across its various enterprises.
The end of the tour meant a hungry crowd, and this group was not disappointed by the outdoor meal that awaited them. Kristine Bernt prepared casseroles, salads, pulled pork, and cornbread – each dish highlighting products that were sourced straight from the farm. Farm fresh products included several varieties of winter and summer squash, multiple leafy greens, roasted pulled pork, cornmeal, butter, honey, pinto beans, tomatoes and a homemade pumpkin ice cream. This farm tour experience makes it clear why several Nebraska school districts are committed to sourcing year round from Clear Creek Organic Farm.
The farm to school landscape has significantly developed since the Bernt’s sat around that fire hall table three years ago, and tours like this are helping even more school nutritional professionals become invested in efforts to serve our children fresh, local food. The Center for Rural Affairs applauds the many miles farm to school has come over the years, and the great investment made by farmers, schools and organizations like the Nebraska School Nutrition Association. The Bernt’s story is a prime example that the farm to school movement is not just growing healthier kids, but that together, we’re supporting vibrant local economies and viable economic opportunities for family farmers.
Hmong farmers bring healthy food and cultural diversity to little eaters
By Emily Pence, Communications Specialist, Hmong American Farmers Association
Photo credit: Mike Hazard
Local farmers are a critical component of successful local food systems. In Minnesota, Hmong American farmers occupy an especially unique place in the efforts to feed local communities local food. In the 1970s, Hmong refugees began resettling in Minnesota from Laos and Thailand as political refugees after the Vietnam War. Many of the resettled families relied on their agricultural heritage to make a living in their new communities, growing produce and flowers for local farmers markets.
By the late 1980s, Hmong farmers had revitalized the Saint Paul and Minneapolis farmers markets and transformed Minnesotan taste buds for Thai chili peppers and Chinese bok choy. They provided a steady stream of fresh produce that fueled the exponential growth of farmers markets into the state’s suburban communities and urban corridors, and greatly increased the supply of nutritious, affordable food available to families. Today, Hmong American farmers are leading the Twin Cities local food economy, making up more than 50 percent of all farmers that sell at metropolitan farmers markets.
In 2011, a group of Hmong American farming families formed the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA). We believe that the best people to support Hmong farmers are Hmong farmers themselves, and that we are all lifted up when those who are affected by an unfair food system lead the change we seek. We formed with a mission to advance the prosperity of Hmong American farmers through cooperative endeavors, capacity building and advocacy. As part of an integrated approach to community wealth building, HAFA manages a 155-acre farm in Dakota County where member families can lease land, hone their business and agricultural practices, and sell produce to the HAFA Food Hub. The HAFA Food Hub aggregates and sells members’ produce through community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares, schools, retailers and institutions.
With growing recognition amongst stakeholders of the importance of connecting young children to healthy, local food, early care and education settings emerged as an important and beneficial market opportunity. Since 2014, HAFA has sold broccoli, beets, carrots and more to the Ramsey County Head Start program to serve to its children during mealtimes. In addition to providing fresh, local produce, HAFA has partnered with the Head Start program to provide educational opportunities and activities to engage its young students, teachers, food workers and parents around eating healthy food.
This partnership started when the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) approached Ramsey County Head Start about starting a Farm to Child Care Project. IATP wanted to focus on cultural relevance in early care and education food programs, which is important because Ramsey County Head Start is incredibly diverse, with over 25 different cultures and 34 different languages represented. Their desire to provide culturally appropriate food prompted IATP and Head Start to reach out to HAFA. They also partnered with Russ Davis Processing and CKC Good Food to help bring healthy, local food to their young eaters.
Here is how produce gets from the farm to the students: HAFA farmers grow fresh produce, which is harvested, washed, sorted and packaged on the farm. We then deliver the produce to Russ Davis Processing, which will peel, cut and process the produce. After the processing, the produce is sent to CKC Good Food, a woman-run, locally owned catering company. CKC creates a menu around the fresh produce, manages the kitchen and delivers the prepared meals to the Head State locations. The final result is young children enjoying fresh, healthy and locally grown food in their meals and snacks!
Not only does the partnership with HAFA allow students to become closer to their food, it also allows them to experience Hmong culture. More than 250 preschoolers visit the HAFA Farm annually, where they see first hand how food is grown. When students visit in the fall, they also participate in a traditional celebration of Hmong New Year. They try on traditional clothes, play New Year games and learn about why the holiday is an important part of the harvest season.
Importantly, HAFA’s partnership with Head Start greatly benefits the HAFA farmers themselves. Whereas selling produce at farmers market can sometimes be unpredictable, wholesale partnerships, such as HAFA’s partnership with Head Start, provides farmers with increased stability and profits for their families. The amount of produce HAFA farmers are able to sell to Ramsey County Head Start is the equivalent to an entire summer’s worth of selling at farmers markets!
In the past two years, we have seen amazing results from this partnership, which have been revolutionizing the food system. Hmong students feel more represented and included at school; students, staff and parents feel more connected to their community; and kids report loving lunch! Pakou Hang, HAFA’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, says, “Through this partnership, we see that we are moving our communities forward, through celebrating and incorporating cultural learning, promoting and supporting diverse role models and inviting students, parents and teachers to be allies in the celebration.”
Helping more farmers bring farm to school
By Lindsey Lusher Shute and Eric Hansen on behalf of the National Young Farmers Coalition
Farmer Mike Nolan of Mountain Roots Produce (Courtesy of National Young Farmers Coalition)
For the past five years, young farmer Mike Nolan of Mountain Roots Produce has been selling his vegetables to the biggest restaurant in Durango, Colo., and pleasing the smallest customers. While the term “restaurant” might be a stretch, Durango’s 9-R school district serves over 2,000 meals a day, and thanks to Nolan, students munch on locally grown potatoes, beets, carrots, rutabagas and winter squash. This farm to school program is a huge opportunity for a farmer like Nolan, who can sell between 500 and 2,000 pounds of potatoes, for example, in a single transaction with the school district. The school district is a stable, high-volume market for him, and it’s a rewarding place to sell his produce. Not only does Nolan feel he is contributing to food system change, but those same students eating his vegetables recognize him as an invaluable part of the Durango community.
Multiple benefits come out of farm to school programs: they put more fresh fruits and vegetables into school meals, teach children where food comes from, inspire students to eat healthier and support local farm economies. From the farmer perspective, institutional buyers, like schools, represent an important piece of the local food system. Institutions provide farmers access to larger, more stable markets that require less one-on-one consumer contact than CSAs and farmers’ markets.
Both schools and farmers benefit when schools procure local food, but a ready supply of farmers is needed to help the farm to school movement grow. And the capacity of local farmers to support farm to school programs remains a critical challenge. The ability of local farmers to meet farm to school demand extends beyond just seeds in the ground or tomatoes on the vine. Institutional markets, like schools, sometimes have additional requirements for farmers that farmers markets and other, smaller retail channels do not.
One of these potential additional requirements, called “Good Agricultural Practices” (GAP), ensures that food is grown in a way that minimizes food safety risks. While GAP is not limited to farm to institution procurement (USDA, as well as many wholesalers require GAP certification, too), it can be a factor for some farmers looking to scale up their farms and access institutional markets.
Ensuring the safety of food served in our schools, hospitals, and other large institutions is of course important, however, these additional requirements can create unforeseen hurdles for some farmers. The requirements vary from state to state, and sometimes from district to district. North Carolina, for example, requires GAP audits and certification for farms that supply its schools through their Farm to School Program. In Illinois, farmers who sell directly to schools are not requires to be GAP certified or audited. In other states, the decision about training and certification is made on a school or district level basis.
If GAP comes into play, farmers can face two different costs to certification. First are the costs of recordkeeping, verification and certification necessary to demonstrate compliance. These costs can include fees associated with the audit and certification process, time needed for required paperwork and training to understand the certification program requirements. The second set of costs may be practice changes and equipment upgrades required to comply with the certification. These costs can include changes in the way food is grown and the way farming is conducted to minimize food safety risks.
Assistance with these practice changes and certification costs provides a good opportunity to further farm to school programs and support small farmers. Farming has slim margins and uneven revenue, so some farmers can’t afford $1,000 for a GAP audit if it is required in order to access farm to school markets. To address the costs of certification, a cost-share program between the USDA and the farmer would go a long way toward bringing certification within reach for a small farmer.
Farm to school programs have shown their value, and supporting small farmers who are ready to scale up or diversify their market channels is a win for all. Targeted investment in cost-share and small grant programs would reduce the cost of entry into farm to school markets for some farmers. And by helping these farmers access institutional markets like schools, we can set them up for long-term success while supporting the growth of the local food movement and reaping educational and health benefits for children.
This blog post is excerpted from 16 for 2016: 16 Education Policy Ideas for the Next President, a report authored by Bellwether Education Partners with input from the National Young Farmers Coalition and others. The National Young Farmers Coalition is a national network of farmers, ranchers, and consumers who support practices and policies that will sustain young, independent, and prosperous farmers now and in the future.
Small steps for using the USDA Farm to School Census
By Matthew Benson, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Community Food Systems
Photo Courtesy: USDA Food and Nutrition Service
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released final results from the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, showing that more than 42,000 schools across the country are operating farm to school programs and another 10,000 have plans to start in the future. During the 2013-2014 school year, these schools purchased nearly $800 million worth of local products from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and other food producers – a 105 percent increase from the 2011-2012 school year – and tended to more than 7,101 school gardens.
The Farm to School Census establishes a national baseline of farm to school activities happening across the country. Whether you’re interested in learning about the national landscape, what’s happening in your state or how your school district participates in farm to school, there are many ways that this information can be used to support your farm to school efforts. Here are three small steps you can take for using Census data to strengthen farm to school activities in your community:
1. Use Farm to School Census data when sharing your story
The Farm to School Census contains data about farm to school activities at the local, state and national levels. Using this data – such as the number of kids impacted by farm to school programs or the dollars spent on local food by schools – can help decision makers understand the benefits farm to school programs have for kids, farmers and communities. Combining validated USDA numbers with your personal experiences and stories can be a powerful tool for raising awareness and spreading your message.
2. Use Farm to School Census data to guide training and technical assistance efforts
The Census includes information on schools that report wanting to start farm to school activities, as well as challenges school report facing when it comes to buying local foods. It also shows which local foods schools are currently purchasing and which they would like to purchase in the future. Knowing this information allows support service providers to help schools get involved in farm to school and assist their expansion of farm to school efforts. Use the Farm to School Census data explorer to download information on the kinds of training and technical assistance schools in your area need most.
3. Use Farm to School Census data to measure progress
Track the progress of farm to school activities in your district or state by downloading raw data from both the 2013 and 2015 Farm to School Census. This raw data provides information to track farm to school participation, dollars spent on local foods, and the number of school gardens throughout each state. Comparisons can be made locally, statewide or nationally. Some states, such as Oregon, have begun to use Census data to create statewide goals and action plans. Regional groups, such as Farm to Institution New England (FINE), are also using Census data to measure progress across multiple states.
Find out more ideas for using Census data by watching a recording of the 2015 Farm to School Census webinar, co-hosted by USDA and the National Farm to School Network in August.
USDA is pleased to celebrate October as National Farm to School Month. All month long we’re working alongside the National Farm to School Network to encourage our partners to take one small step to get informed, get involved, and take action to advance farm to school in their own communities and across the country. Digging into the Census data is one small, easy step you can take today! Happy National Farm to School Month! Check out this new video highlighting Census results and sign-up to receive updates from FNS’s Office of Community Food Systems.
In addition to these three ideas, the National Farm to School Network uses Farm to School Census data to help advocate for policy change. Lawmakers are influenced by research and data, and the Farm to School Census is a great resource for helping legislators understand the positive impacts farm to school programs have on children, families, food producers and communities.
Kids need #realschoolfood – and farm to school is making it happen
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
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"
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
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
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
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!