5 Tips for Celebrating Farm to School Month

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Wendy Allen, Organic Valley

One of our favorite things about National Farm to School Month is October’s abundance of farm-fresh foods, many in a rainbow of colors that children don’t often associate with food. Apples in colors other than red; carrots in colors other than orange; white, yellow—even blue!—potatoes fresh from the soil. And nothing beats the flavor of vine-ripened, heirloom tomatoes in hues of red, orange, yellow and purple.

Schools that source local foods are providing an educational experience for our children that goes way beyond the classroom. Not only are the varied colors of unique, local foods beautiful, each color represents vital nutrients for growing bodies. Best of all, a rainbow-colored plate supports local farmers whose kids may be in your own child’s class. Schools that go one step further to source local and organic are also supporting a way of farming that reduces the use of chemicals on our food, our land and, therefore, in our children’s vulnerable bodies.

Here are a few more of our favorite ways you can participate in National Farm to School Month in your homes and communities!

Harvest the season’s bounty. Visit a local apple orchard or pumpkin patch and pick your own. Many children these days don’t connect that their food comes from the soil or animals rather than the store shelf. Teach them this valuable lesson with a fun and colorful fall experience!

Know your farmer. Meet a farmer at the farmers market and learn the story behind your food. Ask them questions: Where is your farm? What’s your favorite part of your job? What can my family do to support you and other local farmers? Is your farmers market closed for the season? Look into fall and winter “community supported agriculture” (CSA) shares to get local foods nearly year-round. Find a CSA farm new you at www.localharvest.org.

Be a leader! If your local school doesn’t have a farm to school program, talk to the school administrators about starting one! You can use the National Farm to School Network’s excellent “Benefits of Farm to School” resource to help explain why farm to school is a win-win-win for kids, farmers and communities! In addition, many states have organizations that help install gardens, and schools can get free curriculum to connect science, nutrition, health and physical education classes with their gardens. Here’s a resource from Organic Valley’s home state of Wisconsin, which any state could use to get started:

  • The Got Dirt? Gardening Initiative provides a toolkit with step-by-step plans for starting a community, school or childcare garden. To bring the classroom to the garden, the program also created the Got Veggies? Garden Based Nutrition Curriculum, which is a free download. Download both toolkits here.
  • For additional curricular resources, visit the National Farm to School Network resource library.
  • Know of other great resources? Share them with us on Facebook or Twitter!

Grow your own! Start small with a window herb garden, a manageable space in the backyard, or even vegetables that are suited for pots on the porch. A great kids’ activity! Volunteer to visit your local school to help students plant their own classroom herb garden.

Cook together. Cooking can be a great learning experience. Encourage lots of colors for balanced nutrition, and talk about where the foods came from – does your child know that butter comes from cream, which is part of milk, which came from a cow? Talk about it while making your own butter!

National Farm to School Month is a great time to engage with your child’s classrooms and encourage teachers to work in food and farming education. It’s so important to help our children learn to appreciate where our food comes from and the hard work it takes to bring that food to our tables.

Organic Valley is a 2017 National Farm to School Month sponsor, and happy to support the National Farm to School Network in its efforts to support family farming and teach children about where our food comes from.

Farm to School Brings a Consistent Market to this Kansas Farm

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

Growing up in suburban Dallas, Jill Elmers felt far from farm country. Even as a young adult, she did not envision her life as a farmer. Jill began her career as an engineer, got burned out, and took time off to farm in 2000. Ever since her first season, she has had a little bit of land every year. Then in 2006, Jill saved up enough money to buy her own farmland. Today, she owns and operates Moon on the Meadow Farm in Lawrence, Kansas.

Moon on the Meadow is a six-acre, certified organic farm growing a variety of produce including: fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers. In addition to Jill, up to six employees work at the farm, some seasonally and a few year round. Through the use of season extension techniques such a tunnels, Jill is able to produce all year for the farm’s retail and wholesale markets including: farmers markets, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and farm to school.

This is the farm’s second year selling to local schools, and Jill says that this business relationship has given her farm a consistently reliable market. “The core items that they (schools) buy, they know how much they need every week, and so those sales are consistent.”  Last year, the farm sold cucumbers and cherry tomatoes to the Lawrence schools, and this year they have added romaine, cilantro, and winter salad mix.

Jill is one of a number of U.S. farmers discovering the economic benefits of farm to school. Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case Studies and Assessment Tools, a recent report from the National Farm to School Network and Colorado University, examines the economic impact of local purchasing and provides new insight into the potential for farm to school procurement to positively impact local economies. This report finds that not only were surveyed farmers satisfied or very satisfied with most aspects of farm to school sales, but farm to school farms purchase more inputs from the local economy, which results in positive local economic impact. Beyond the economics, farm to school has far-reaching and positive impacts for students, farmers, and communities.

Jill is happy that farm to school has secured her a more reliable farm income; however, she was quick to explain that farm to school is about so much more than that. The team at Moon on the Meadow Farm is proud to supply healthy, organic food to the schools surrounding them. Since the farm is located eleven blocks from the center of Lawrence, the schools that this urban farm supplies actually surround it. Jill’s favorite farm to school moments are when students make the trip to the farm. Specifically, the Lawrence 7th grade health students who take a field trip in the fall and spring.  Jill explained that the students not only inspire her but all of her farm’s workers. It seems some type of poetic that the students inspire Jill and her team, because I am most certain that the farm inspires the students - maybe even a future farmer or two.

The National Farm to School Network thanks CoBank for their generous support of this blog and our 2017 National Farm to School Month celebrations!

Tower Garden Grows More Than Plants

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Jesse Graytock, Program Manager, The NEA Foundation

Students walking by the window to Sabrina Sullivan Conner’s classroom were perplexed. The large white column that they saw didn’t seem to make any sense. Was it a birdhouse? A piece of a maintenance equipment? Some sort of elaborate game board?

It turns out that it was simply a way to bring farming not just to schools, but to have it in schools. At Strongsville Middle School in Strongsville, Ohio Mrs. Conner, an intervention specialist who works with students with moderate to intensive disabilities, used a $2,000 grant from the NEA Foundation to work with her students to build a tower garden in their classroom. The tower, which pumps water through a central base and then filters it up to twenty different vegetables and herbs, allowed students to grow crops year-round and served as an invaluable hands-on learning tool.

Students were responsible for building the tower, choosing and planting the vegetables and herbs, and maintaining the system, which included pruning, checking water levels, filling the tank, and harvesting. “We wanted to teach healthy living and vocational skills to individuals with autism, Down syndrome, and multiple disabilities,” said Mrs. Conner. “I want my students to have access to opportunities to build skills to help them eventually live independently.”

In addition to acting as a catalyst for experiential learning, the garden also led to a significant change in students’ eating habits. Once the province of chocolate and pretzels, snack periods morphed into sessions with tomatoes, spinach, and thyme. But this transition was not without some hiccups.

“At first they were very confused,” remembers Mrs. Conner. “Most of my students have autism and are very rigid with their diets. Some of them have never really tried fresh vegetables. Many have never given a thought to the growing process – they only knew that vegetables came from the store.”

As time passed, and as students began to realize the fruits (and veggies) of their labor, attitudes changed. One student developed a deep love for basil. Others enjoyed sliced cucumbers with a light dressing. Every week, a group of students would choose a recipe, make a list of ingredients, and cook a meal for each other. Their pride in the garden was palpable.

After a few months of having the tower in the window, students in the general education population began to ask how they could get involved. Eventually more than 100 students signed up to volunteer to assist their special needs peers with planting and harvesting.

The success of the project can’t be measured simply by students’ new appreciation for vocational skills, healthy living, and life science (although that was clear). For Mrs. Conner, the deep impact comes in the form of watching her students embrace this type of hands-on learning and turn it into a self-directed odyssey. “I’ll catch them smelling the plants and trimming off dead leaves or overgrowth independently and unprompted,” she recalls.

“They inspire me every day.”

Sabrina Sullivan is an intervention specialist at Strongsville Middle School in Strongsville, Ohio. She and thousands of other educators throughout the country have received a grant from the NEA Foundation. To apply for a $2,000 or $5,000 grant for classroom projects or professional development endeavors, visit www.neafoundation.org.

Healthy Eating Starts Early: Growing Healthy Kids with CACFP and Farm to ECE

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Photo credit: Kelly Rood

By Alexia Thex, National CACFP Sponsors Association

Every single day, child care providers across the nation are growing healthy kids. These unsung heroes work tirelessly day in and day out caring for our children’s minds and bodies. The National CACFP Sponsors Association (NCA) believes that healthy eating starts early and considers it paramount to support these providers in building healthy habits.

This month we are proud to be a Featured Partner for National Farm to School Month and support providers with tools to support their local farm to school initiatives. “The USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is an indicator of quality childcare and goes hand in hand with farm to school initiatives. “As the founder of Taking Root Tennessee, I have seen first-hand the difference it makes when we get children involved in growing their own food,” shared Senta Hester, NCA President and Founder of Taking Root Tennessee. “This is why we are honored to have the National Farm to School Network as one of our National Allies.”  

We love sharing our CACFP provider farm to early care and education (ECE) success stories.  Kelly Rood, a CACFP participant in Arlington, TX, knows that teaching nutrition isn’t always easy. Through her gardening efforts, she has created a learning environment that encourages teamwork and nurtures responsibility.  As they tend their summer and winter gardens, not only are the children learning about healthy foods, they are also growing their sense of pride.  Parents are excited to see their children trying new fruits and vegetables and the children are all smiles when they see their hard work result in a something ‘yummy.’

Joy Parks, a CACFP Home Child Care Provider in Charlotte, NC, gets her kids involved in the food preparation, such as snapping green beans, to make them feel part of the process. She often uses the herbs from their garden to make the ‘final touches’ on their meal. She incorporates learning about new foods in their daily lessons using food cards to teach kids about what they are eating.  “We love promoting the great work of our CACFP providers who are already implementing the 2017 New CACFP Meal Patterns which are the building blocks for teaching healthy eating habits. The new meal patterns focus on the increased consumption of vegetables by separating the fruit and vegetable components, and what better way to increase consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetable than to get the kids involved in the planning, growing, preparing and serving process,” Senta noted.  

As we celebrate National Farm to School Month, we encourage providers to TAKE ACTION by incorporating one or more farm to school activities into your child care program.  Check out the NEW! Child Nutrition Today section of our website. Here you will find kid-friendly, nutritious #cacfpcreditable recipes that incorporate items from your community gardens along with fun activity sheets to incorporate into your lesson plans. Happy Growing!  

Engaging youth as leaders and stakeholders to grow farm to school

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Katie Warner, YES! Team Lead and Co-Founder

Young people under the age of 18 make up more than a quarter of the U.S. population, yet their potential as a generation to contribute to a better society is systematically ignored. Our nation is suffering economically, creatively, and civilly as a result. Empowering young people to participate in effective youth-adult partnerships is a proven, replicable approach to solving community problems. Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) has developed a nationally-recognized model of social change through youth empowerment and works to leverage the unique skills and power of young people.

YES! is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization centered on the idea that real community change cannot take place without the contributions of young people. Using the YES! Youth Empowerment Model®, YES! works with youth to develop a deep critical awareness about the root causes of the issues that impact them, then works with them to develop the skills necessary to understand these complex issues, and engage in collaboration to effectively identify and advocate for solutions to those issues.

YES! also centers our work on capacity-building and support of adults and organizations as they navigate news systems and structures to understand the importance of youth empowerment and build their own capacity to work with youth in ways that support their mission. By engaging youth in our work, organizations and communities become more creative, resourceful, tech savvy, powerful, and successful at creating meaningful and sustainable solutions for community challenges.

YES! has been applying the YES! Youth Empowerment Model® to food access and food justice work since 2008. Our efforts have primarily focused on southern rural communities as we have built and tailored our approach to empower and meet the needs of youth of color, of low-wealth or living in a rural community. Over the past four years, YES! has mobilized a network of more than 350 teams of Youth and Adults that work locally on policy, system and environmental changes that increase access to healthy affordable food. In our home state of North Carolina, we have been able to galvanize partners statewide to move state level policy to support a Healthy Corner Store initiative.

As YES! continues to grow, we are adding more partners to the YES! Youth Network, engaging with new stakeholders, training new partners, supporting their farm to school efforts at the local level and lifting up the stories of youth and adults across the country doing phenomenal work to increase access and education around healthy food, food justice and youth empowerment.

YES! is excited to be partnering with the National Farm to School Network to celebrate National Farm to School Month and want to take the opportunity to share a few partner highlights to showcase their efforts and successes.  

Neighborhood garden transforms community Pinehurst, North Carolina
Yolonda Moore of the Sandhills Cooperation Association saw her family, friends, and neighbors eating only processed foods. Yolonda moved from Durham where she was involved in the local community garden scene, to a 0.5 acre plot in Pinehurst, NC and decided that she was going to start growing her own produce to offset the high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables sold at stores in her community. After a few years of successfully growing food for her family, Yolonda saw a real need to bring education around growing food to her neighborhood, so she teamed up with youth in her community and YES!. Together, with a small mini grant and training and support from YES!, the youth-adult team started spreading the word about food deserts and how this small neighborhood garden could transform the community. More and more community members got involved and Yolonda’s family garden became a community garden where the team of youth and adults now teach educational classes about growing food and nutrition and host cooking demos using produce grown in the garden. This community garden is also used by local homeschool families for educational purposes. Yolonda and the youth that participate in gardening activities estimate that they donate excess produce to around 50 people each growing season. Because of training provided by YES!, the youth from Pinehurst also participated in several advocacy activities, including attending a Youth Advocacy Day at the NC General Assembly to advocate for state level policy to decrease food deserts across NC.

Community gardens lead to advocacy
Springfield, Missouri
Through the Healthy Eating Active Living grant with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department has been piloting a new youth-led effort: the Youth Health and Wellness Council.  The council has worked with local organizations, such as the Springfield Community Gardens (SCG), to influence change in the community around nutrition and food access. Over the last two years, the Youth Health & Wellness Council worked with SCG to increase awareness, knowledge and engagement within the gardens through designing and providing name and welcome signs for each garden, purchasing bus advertisements to promote the gardens, and hosting a Family Fun Day event at one of the local gardens.  This year, the Health Department is partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield to continue work around policy and environmental changes in the community around healthy eating, active living, and tobacco.  This year’s Youth Health & Wellness Council kicked off with a YES! Advocacy 101 Youth Training!

Second Chance Breakfast to Increase Food AccessAsheville, North Carolina
Asheville High School (AHS) is home to roughly 1,400 students and the school itself stands out in many ways because of outstanding academic and athletic programs, but additionally because it houses a high population of students on free and reduced lunch. The campus is large, with students reporting a 15-20 minute walk from one side to the other, and there are transportation issues that often force students to take city buses to get to and from school. These issues add up to quite a few students missing breakfast. After researching many options, youth from AHS’s Student Government Association (SGA), partnered with YES!, and the school nutrition director to bring Second Chance Breakfast to their campus. After several months of work, in which students surveyed their peers to gather support and determined what types of foods students would purchase most often, they spoke directly with decision makers at the school, the decision was made to purchase a food cart to sit in the middle of campus for students to pick up a quick and nutritious breakfast on their way to class. Students on free and reduced lunch were able to use this benefit at the breakfast cart or in the cafeteria, depending on which best fit their schedule. The SGA also successfully advocated for a longer break between classes to give students extra time to stop by the cart. YES! supported AHS’s SGA by providing guidance with action planning for this project, and helping strategize and prep for meetings with key decision makers at the school. Data collected by the school nutrition program showed that Second Chance Breakfast served nearly 200 students every day and increased the number of students eating breakfast at the high school by 26.5%. To read more, download your free copy of the Second Chance Breakfast Change Chronicle here.

Take Action: Learn about the USDA Farm to School Grant Program

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Photo Courtesy: USDA Food and Nutrition Service

By Christina Conell, USDA Office of Community Food Systems

National Farm to School Month is not just a time for celebration. It’s also a time to take action. This October, USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems invites you to learn more about the USDA Farm to School Grant Program.  

In 2010, the Farm to School Program was established by law to assist eligible entities – through grants and technical assistance – in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in schools. To fulfill this commitment, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides $5 million on an annual basis to support these grants.

Just in time for Farm to School Month, the fiscal year 2018 Farm to School Grant Program Request for Applications was released last week! Designed to increase the availability of local foods in schools, grants can help new farm to school programs get started or expand existing efforts. Funds support a wide range of activities from training, planning and developing partnerships to creating new menu items, establishing supply chains, offering taste tests for children, purchasing equipment, planting school gardens and organizing field trips to agricultural operations.

To date, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has provided more than $25 million for 365 farm to school projects to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools across all 50 states, plus the Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Reaching more than 29,000 schools and approximately 13 million students in the past five years, the Farm to School Grant Program is an effective mechanism for increasing local foods in schools and creating new markets for producers. In looking at baseline and final reports from fiscal year 2015 and 2016 grantees, it’s evident that these efforts are making a difference. From the start of their grant period, grantees report increased garden activities, taste tests, farm field trips and more farm to school concepts embedded in schools’ curriculum.

Take action and learn more about the USDA Farm to School Grant Program with these resources:

Locally Grown Food: A Key Ingredient in School Lunch Recipes

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Dr. Lynn Harvey, RDN, LDN, FAND, SNS
School Nutrition Association President
Chief of School Nutrition Services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

October is ripe with reasons to celebrate – school cafeterias are recognizing National Farm to School Month and National School Lunch Week (NSLW - Oct 9-13). The overlap is especially fitting since schools are increasingly turning to Farm to School activities to help promote the healthy, local choices available on school lunch menus.

In my home state of North Carolina, school nutrition directors can order locally grown produce and have it delivered right to the district through our Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The department even supplies educational and promotional materials to help students learn about the healthy offerings in the cafeteria that have been grown in their communities. During the 2016-2017 school year, the program generated nearly $1.3 million in produce sales with participation by 79 school districts statewide.

But North Carolina’s approach is just one of a multitude of successful Farm to School models and initiatives across the country. As School Nutrition Association (SNA) president, I am inspired by my peers every day as I witness the creative strategies they employ to connect students with more fresh, local foods.

For example, the School District of Holmen, WI, hasn’t let a short growing season limit their Farm to School efforts. With the help of school nutrition professionals and guidance from science and math teachers and the Future Farmers of America, students raise their own chickens, grow their own crops on donated land and harvest from hydroponic greenhouses. The 2016-2017 school year marked the fourth year students in the district helped raise chickens, nurturing and caring for them from day-old chicks to mature chickens. Students enjoyed the fruits of their labor during a “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” event, with enough baked chicken for 3,000 servings. To learn more about this project and Holmen’s crop of 2,500 asparagus, visit SNA’s Tray Talk blog.

This year, as SNA members celebrate NSLW, we look forward to seeing how schools use the School Lunch: Recipes for Success marketing campaign to show off the many locally sourced ingredients in their recipes. SNA’s recently released 2017 Trends Survey revealed that 61% of responding districts have increased scratch preparation of school foods to meet sodium limits for school meals. Scratch preparation also allows schools to utilize more healthy, local foods into dishes.

Nearly 60% of districts surveyed report offering new menu items this school year that feature international flavors. Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern and other ethnic recipes help schools appeal to diverse student communities - and incorporate local foods. Douglas County School District, CO, serves Salvadorian pupusas, handmade locally using all Colorado ingredients. The dish was first served as a special feature on Colorado Proud School Meal Day but was so popular with students that pupusas are now menued year-round.

I am also glad to report that nearly 70% of school districts surveyed utilize salad/produce bars or made-to-order salads to give students more choices when it comes to selecting their fruits and vegetables. We love to see schools create delicious salad creations – especially when the incorporate student grown produce, like this colorful organic Green Swiss Chard salad from Arlington, VA.

SNA hopes schools and their partners will continue to share the good news about all the creative, positive Farm to School efforts in their communities!

School Nutrition Association is the National Farm to School Network’s 2017 National Partner of the Year. Read more about our partnership here.

Photo credit for all photos: School Nutrition Association

Too small for grocery stores, but just right for schools

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Clearview Farm’s farm to school story

By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

Clearview Farm has been in Rick and Diane Melone’s family for 265 years. In fact, this century farm - two times over - was the inspiration for the classic children’s poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Situated just outside of Boston in Sterling, Mass., Clearview Farm’s 85 acres grows a diverse array of produce for diverse markets, including local schools.

The farm includes apple and peach orchards for a u-pick operation, as well as hosts school tours that bring hundreds of students at a time to the farm. Additionally, the farm grows twenty acres of pumpkins, along with diversified vegetable production for an on–site farm stand. Rick has always seen diversity as essential to the farm’s operation. When Rick and Diane moved to the farm in 1989, it was all apples, so they diversified by planting peaches. Today, they sell those apples and peaches to the Worcester Public Schools, the third largest school district in the state, by the truckload.

Clearview Farm has been engaged with farm to school for eight years, and Rick explains that selling to schools has provided his farm a valuable and necessary market. “I’m too small to work with huge markets like Whole Foods and other grocery store whole-salers," he says. "But I can bring a truck load of apples in (to schools) and they will use them that day. We also sell veggies to the school’s summer feeding program.” Prior to selling to Worcester Public Schools, Clearview Farm’s relied more heavily on selling to medium sized grocery stores, but with so many other farms selling in that same market, competition was heavy. In addition, Rick added that a few years ago his farm stopped selling at the Boston farmers markets after seeing several years of declining sales. It's schools that have become one of his most reliable and valuable customers.

Before working with schools, Clearview Farm did not have a market for selling small peaches and apples. But as it turns out, smaller sized fruit is perfect for students. “There are so many schools and kids who need lunches and also farmers who need to move product. Children deserve better (lunches)!” Rick and Diane are proud of the fresh, healthy, and local produce they are able to provide the students of Worcester. In the end farm to school is not only a win for Clearview Farms. It’s a win for students too!

Learn more about the economic impacts of farm to school and benefits to farmers in our new “Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case Studies and Assessment Tools” report. This new report, a collaborative project between National Farm to School Network and Colorado State University, with generous support from CoBank and AgriBank, examines the economic impact of local purchasing and provides new insight into the potential for farm to school procurement to positively impact local economies. Explore the report and register for an upcoming webinar here.

The National Farm to School Network thanks CoBank for their generous support of this blog and our 2017 National Farm to School Month celebrations!

STEM, DIY Projects, Conservation & History: Partnership Ideas for Farm to School Month

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Daniel W. Hatcher, MPH, Director of Community Partnerships, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

At the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, we believe in the power of partnership with business. We are passionate about innovative solutions, like our newest one with Amazon Business, that bring bold change for children’s health.

To celebrate Farm to School Month, here are five ideas for collaborating with local businesses while linking school, afterschool and families. In honor of a new report from The Aspen Institute that underscores the importance of social and emotional learning, I have made an effort to focus on affirming activities that foster positive connections and welcoming spaces.

Build Bridges with STEM
In The Power of Partnerships with the Business Community, I emphasize that “healthy children grow up to be consumers with increased earning and buying power.” Farm to School Month is a tremendous opportunity to build bridges with local STEM-focused companies. Agriculture is uniquely situated at the intersection of STEM and wellness. If you’re hosting an event or celebration this month, invite business leaders to speak with your students and work together on fun enrichment activities like Apples Turning Brown! (page 3), that intentionally link nutrition with science.

To help grow the STEM and wellness conversation, check out our new educational brief, STEM and Wellness: A Powerful Equation for Equity and recorded workshop during the National AfterSchool Association Virtual Convention in November.

Start Simple and Go Do-it-Yourself (DIY)
Swing by your arts and craft store and ask them to sponsor a farm-focused bulletin board to cultivate curiosity and brighten up your physical space. Spotlight a local farm and regularly feature “Foods of the Month.” October’s Food of the Month theme is Apples, Pears and Winter Squash. Why not ask a local orchard grower to serve as a guest speaker for your next family event. At your gathering, host a fresh fruit taste test.

Take a bite out of childhood hunger with 6 more apple themed ideas from a past article I wrote for School Breakfast Week. Don’t forget to provide take-home printables, like these from USDA, highlighting seasonal produce that’s budget friendly. Find out if your local art or hardware store will donate supplies year-round for creative activities.

Turn Field Trips into Long Term Relationships
A simple way to engage with local business leaders is through field trips, but don’t stop there. Whether you visit a creamery or a vegetable farm, foster an ongoing relationship by starting a pen pal project with a local farmer. After your field trip, dialogue with students and find out what their interests are. Maybe even organize a mini Youth-Hosted Forum to amplify youth voice in your community. Ask the farmer you visit to provide regular updates on crops and progress photos of animals and plants. A Farm to School Month field trip could turn into a long-term relationship with new adult allies. Imagine your next fall festival or a healthy Halloween potluck featuring local produce provided by new partners. Never stop searching for extensions and collaborators. Link field trips with literacy goals too! Why not collaborate with your library on an agriculture themed book nook?

Partner with Parks
Farm to School Month is the perfect time to work with parks and recreation and other organizations with roots in nature. Conservation-focused community celebrations and service-learning projects are a great way to promote critical thinking and social responsibility while reinforcing healthy habits. Even simple healthy hydration activities can inspire a greater awareness of local water sources and sustainable farming practices.

Build Community History
As I explored in Creating a More Connected World Through Local Agriculture: 9 Voices, agriculture has the power to connect us and honor our collective history. Invite retired farmers to speak with students to help them understand the historic value of farming in your community. Young professionals in the farming and agriculture field can inspire career and trade exploration. Help students establish meaningful connections and build communication skills by presenting to business leaders on issues they care about. If you have a school garden, work with your local county extension agents to turn produce into recipes and partner with local restaurant owners to feature student creations. Use Farm to School Month as an opportunity to connect students with the world around them in a meaningful way.

I hope this article has given you a few new ideas for business partnerships. Which activity or idea will you try? Share your ideas with me on Twitter using @hatchdw. I’d love to add to this list and hear your success stories.

Want even more inspiration? Read how Kelliher School District started a farm to school program and made student wellness a priority.

BONUS ACTIVITY: Farm to School Month Energizer
Have you been sitting for a while? Why not take a fitness break? I adapted our Healthier Generation Task Cards (#17) into a simple activity with a farm and math twist. Ready?  Gather your coworkers and act out this math problem for a quick energizer. 15 crows were flying in the air and 7 stopped for a snack in a cornfield. How many were left flying?

Simple right?! Happy Farm to School Month.

Read more from Daniel Hatcher on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's
New & Notable blog.

Photo credit for all photos: Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Ready, Set, Celebrate!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

It’s the time of year again! Every October, when gardens and farms are full of harvest bounty and students are sliding up to lunchroom tables, we come together with schools, farmers, communities, families and food advocates from every corner of the country to celebrate the connections happening between students and local foods. Designated by Congress in 2010, National Farm to School Month is a time 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.

This October, we invite you to join us in taking action for farm to school. Whether you’re hosting a taste test in the cafeteria, harvesting school garden produce, making a new farm to school connection, or advocating for supportive policies like the Farm to School Act of 2017, no action is too small!

Here are five easy action steps to get you started:

  • Take the Pledge: Sign our Take Action Pledge and commit to taking action to advance farm to school in your community this October. Add your name to the pledge and you’ll be entered to win our Farm to School Month sweepstakes! Ten winners will receive a prize package that includes: assets from the Captain Planet Foundation Project Learning Garden™ program, a Stand2Learn student standing desk, and a collection of seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds. No action is too small – take the pledge now!
  • See what’s happening: Explore our national calendar of Farm to School Month events and see what celebrations are taking place in your community.
  • Read inspiring stories: Visit our blog all month long to read inspiring stories of farm to school success and innovation. Guest blog posts include the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, School Nutrition Association, USDA Office of Community Food Systems, National CACFP Sponsors Association, the NEA Foundation, Youth Empowered Solutions and more!
  • 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 action steps will you take this month? Share with us by taking the pledge! Or, let us know during our #FarmtoSchool101 tweet chat on Thursday, Oct. 12 from 12-1pm ET, or anytime with the social media hashtags #F2SMonth and #farmtoschool.

Farm to school is a grassroots movement powered by people like you taking small actions every day to grow healthier kids, support local agriculture and cultivate vibrant communities. YOU are part of this movement, and you can help keep it growing.

Thank you to this year’s National Farm to School Month sponsors -  CoBank, Territory Foods, Captain Planet Foundation, Organic Valley, Perdue, Emeril Lagasse Foundation, Stand2Learn and High Mowing Organic Seeds - as well as the Feature Partner and Outreach Partner organizations that 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!

Reducing student food waste with farm to school in Arkansas

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Melissa Terry, MPA Candidate specializing in Food Policy, University of Arkansas Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences, and Emily English, Arkansas State Lead, National Farm to School Network. Terry and English are co-Chairs of the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention’s Access to Healthy Foods Workgroup

Photos courtesy of Melissa Terry

Each state faces its own food security challenges, but Arkansas’s children find themselves particularly in the crosshairs of childhood obesity and childhood hunger statistics. In 2014, Arkansas was ranked as one of the top 5 states with the highest rates of food-insecure children, and approximately 1 in 5 children are obese. When combined, these two factors can be early indicators of long-term health risks, but also, an opportunity for community leaders to cultivate an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice.

Washington Elementary School in Fayetteville, Ark., offers a shining example of how farm to school strategies can help cultivate healthy learning environments and positively impact the health and wellness of children. A garden-based learning program is used to engage all 325 kindergarten through 4th grade students in a variety of experiential academic lessons tied to grade-level benchmark standards – including activities inside classrooms, in the lunchroom, and in the school’s three gardens.

Classroom lessons include interactive activities like making Rainbow Wraps with kindergarten students, pouring over the latest issue of ChopChop Magazine with 1st graders, learning about pollinators by creating Monarch butterfly nurseries in 2nd grade classrooms, facilitating Math in the Garden lessons with 3rd graders, and exploring USDA Garden Detective curriculum with 4th graders. After school programs include Washington’s robust Gardening Club, which is filled to capacity with 30 students. Additionally, each grade level participates in a farm to school field trip to a local farm.  

“Washington Elementary School’s garden-based initiatives are making a difference in our school and have enriched student learning experiences. The Fayetteville School District’s Farm to School program benefits all students regardless of the demographic background,” says Ms. Ashley McLarty, Washington Elementary Principal.

Cafeteria lessons include a rotating “School Lunch in the Garden” initiative where one class each week visits the school garden for a lunch tray picnic. Activities also include data collection of Harvest of the Month taste test result, and participation in food waste reduction incentives. According to Washington’s Garden-Based Learning Coordinator, Melissa Terry, “The unsung hero of classrooms and learning environments is the school cafeteria. What the students learn there, whether intentional or incidental, shapes the way they perceive healthy food choices for the rest of their lives.”

One of the school’s most innovate farm to school initiatives has been piloting a student food plate waste audit in early 2015, in partnership with the Washington County Environmental Affairs Department, the EPA, the USDA, and four other county schools. In this pilot, students engaged in a five day plate waste audit that measured plate waste by categories, including fruit/vegetables, all other food waste, milk waste, other liquid waste and unopened items.

Results from the audit reflected an opportunity for Washington to make changes to help students reduce their food waste, including the introduction of 8 oz water cups next to the water fountain and the installation of a share table for unopened items, such as milk cartons, fruits and packaged food. Over the course of the 2015-2016 school year students reduced their milk waste by 20% and shared various unopened lunch meal items (e.g. milks, apples, oranges, etc.) as afternoon snacks with other students.  

To further its food waste reduction efforts, the school also launched an innovative “Farm to Store to School” partnership with Natural Grocers. Initiated in 2015, the store donates its surplus produce to the Washington Elementary twice a week, where it is used to make fresh, healthy snacks for students in afterschool programs. Produce picked up during holidays and during the summer break is delivered to the local Salvation Army kitchen, where meals are served twice daily and often include Washington Elementary students and their families.

Arkansas Farm to School seeks to support schools and communities as they strive to fully engage students in their food system and cultivate emerging leaders empowered to participate in their food choices. And these efforts support the local economy, too. According to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, local and regional procurement practices have resulted in $1,255,960 of direct financial impact for Arkansas' food producers. Emily English, National Farm to School Network Arkansas State Lead, says, “As we support schools and communities like Washington Elementary in Fayetteville and share successes and best practices across the state, we build a network of change agents young and old – students, parents, school staff, growers and community members - united in our efforts.”

For more information about Washington Elementary School’s farm to school activities, check out this Prezi featuring different types of student engagement, and this recording of a USDA webinar featuring Washington’s school-based food recovery partnerships.  

Farm to School ROCKS!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Alicia Harvie, Advocacy & Issues Director, Farm Aid

Farmer Jason Grimm (Courtesy of Farm Aid)

Farm to school programs are expanding across the country in a movement celebrated by teachers, farmers, parents, students, school food service directors and more. These programs, of all shapes and sizes, are producing tangible benefits for kids, farmers and communities.

At Farm Aid, we’re right there with them celebrating. But we still have a long way to go – only 42% of U.S. schools are participating in these programs. We need to keep moving in a positive direction so that every child in America, and every farmer looking to tap into school markets, can benefit.

We think farm to school programs are pretty cool. At a time when family farmers are seeing their profit margins squeezed down to pennies on the dollar in the conventional marketplace, we take notice when we see the opportunities farm to school programs represent for farmers. When farmers participate in these programs, they make an average of 5% more in income and are able to set fair prices and reach new customers.

That’s why we created Farm to School Rocks, a guide designed to inspire all of us engaged in the farm to school movement. Whether you’re a farmer, student, parent, school food administrator, teacher or activist – there’s a way for you to get involved. Read the stories of our Farm to School Rockstars, like Betti Wiggins – Detroit’s Rebel Lunch Lady – or farmer Jason Grimm – Iowa’s Tireless Farm to School Architect.

And of course, check out our new infographic showing the benefits of farm to school, which you can use to help make the case for new farm to school programs in your neck of the woods.

Explore the full infographic here

You’ll also find our hand-picked resources to get you started on the farm to school journey, an opportunity to take action to boost federal support for farm to school programs, and learn more about the state of farm to school in your state!

So go ahead. Get Inspired. Dig In. Get Engaged.