DC chefs help kids bring farm to plate

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Lea Howe, Farm to School Director, DC Greens

(All photos courtesy of DC Greens)

A few months ago, summer school 6th graders at Walker Jones Education Campus excitedly shuffled through the gates of the K Street Farm in Washington, D.C. It was a special day, as two local chefs – Jeremiah and Chris – would be joining the students in the garden. It may seem odd that this encounter did not take place in the school's new state-of-the-art food lab. After all, what were these chefs doing on an urban farm and not in the kitchen?

But farms like K Street are exactly where you'll find Jeremiah Langhorne, executive chef and owner of The Dabney, most afternoons. As he prepares to open his first restaurant this fall, Jeremiah has visited dozens of local farms and urban gardens from which he will source almost 100% of the ingredients needed for his seasonal menus. From heritage breed animals to West Virginia salt, he's taking farm to table to the next level and giving his diners an authentic taste of the Mid-Atlantic.

Today his line cooks were 6th graders. The students led Jeremiah and his sous chef, Chris, around the farm, where together they harvested armfuls of herbs and veggies: basil, mint, swiss chard, collard greens, shiso, garlic, onions, squash, tomatoes and peppers. They hauled their bounty up one block to the Walker Jones Education Campus where in the food lab, students watched with awe as the chefs finely minced the freshly harvested produce. But the chefs weren’t the only ones cooking. The 6th graders helped pluck, chop, peel, mix, and – of course – sample along the way. Their final dish: a Johnnycake with smokey pimento cheese sauce and K Street Farm relish.

This was the first time most of theses students had experienced the full cycle of farm to plate – harvesting raw ingredients in the garden, preparing a meal from scratch and eating it together with friends. Yet, the power of gardens and food education to teach life skills, share culture and bring people together was obvious from the start of the day’s activities.

Our mission at DC Greens is to use the power of partnerships to support food education, food access, and food policy so that all students can have these kinds of experiences. As part of our effort to build an equitable, sustainable food system, we believe in putting food education on the menu in every District classroom. That’s why we deploy our Cooking Corps of healthy eating instructors to DC schools with mobile cooking carts and hands-on lesson plans. To expand our reach, we train DC teachers how to incorporate school gardens and food system knowledge into their curricula year-round. And, we help District youth develop entrepreneurial skills by running School Garden Markets that sell affordable local produce to nearby households. We also operate three thriving urban agriculture sites across DC - including the K Street Farm – and work to unite food-focused organizations in our community to promote smart food policy, identify solutions, and make the most of our shared resources.

We know that the more opportunities young people have to positively engage with fresh fruits and vegetables, the more likely they are to adopt healthy habits that will last a lifetime. That's why programs that connect students with chefs can be so important: it provides an opportunity to introduce students to knowledge, skills and desire to become healthier eaters. We look forward to expanding upon and deepening these opportunities with ongoing chef visits, cooking demonstrations and taste tests throughout the school year, because it’s experiences like these that can spark a child's appreciation of good food and healthy eating for a lifetime.

New report highlights success of USDA Farm to School Grant Program

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

“Farm to school partnerships have a proven track record of encouraging kids to eat more healthy foods and creating new market opportunities for the farmers that grow them.”               –Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Photo credit: USDA Farm to School Program

Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new report that provides an in-depth look at the first three years of the USDA’s Farm to School Grant Program. The report shows the program has helped 12,300 schools improve healthful meal options with local ingredients, and that this increase in local food procurement has expanded market opportunities for food producers around the country.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 tasked USDA with supporting farm to school efforts through grants, training, technical assistance and research. To date, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has funded 221 farm to school projects in 49 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Here are a few exciting highlights about these awards:

  • Millions of students benefit: 12,3000 schools and 6.9 million students are estimated to have been reached through activities funded by USDA Farm to School grants.
  • Healthier food in cafeterias: 50 percent of funded projects included expanding healthy meal options offered in the cafeteria.
  • More agriculture and nutrition-based education: A majority of grantee proposals (65 percent) included activities related to teaching kids about nutrition, agriculture and where their food comes from.
  • Rural and urban impact: 40 percent of schools or districts impacted by a USDA Farm to School Grant were considered rural, and 56 percent were considered urban. 38 percent of grants were distributed in StrikeForce states and territories to address challenges associated with rural poverty.
  • Focus on children eligible for free or reduced-price meals: 78 percent of awards went to support schools or districts with free or reduced-price meal eligibility rated great than 50 percent.
  • Demand is 5x higher than available funding: To date, a total of 1,067 applicants have requested $78.4 million in grant funds. 221 applicants have received $15.1 million – an overall award rate of 21 percent.

“These numbers underscore why it is important that Congress increase access to the USDA Farm to School Grant Program through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization this fall,” says Anupama Joshi, National Farm to School Network’s Executive Director and Co-Founder. “As demonstrated by this report, farm to school strategies enable school districts to comply with the new nutrition standards and help engage students in learning healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.”  

Together with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and our network of supporters across the country, we are calling on Congress to continue its support for the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program by fully incorporating the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the upcoming Child Nutrition Act reauthorization package. The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 would strengthen the grant program by fully including preschools, summer food service sites, after school programs, and tribal schools and producers. The proposed legislation also aims to improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Join us in asking Congress to continue and expand upon the success of farm to school by adding your name to our citizen and organizational sign-on letters. Already signed on? Consider writing a letter to the editor of your newspaper, inviting your representative to lunch at your child’s school, or calling your federal legislators to let them know how farm to school is positively impacting your community.

Communities know that farm to school is growing healthier kids, supporting farmers and building vibrant communities. Now is the time to make sure our legislators know that farm to school works, too.

More than one good day: seeding change with farm to school

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Sara Tedeschi, Seed Change Program Manager

Seed Change Program Manager Sara Tedeschi and Program Associate Lihlani Skipper recently visited Seed Change demonstration sites in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Louisiana.

Some days at work are just better than others, no question.

The day we hit “send” to award $.5 million in mini grants directly to schools to build and expand farm to school activities was a really good day at work.

This fall, 100 schools in Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania will each receive $5,000 Seed Change mini grants to fund a wide variety of farm to school activities, including building new school gardens, leading farm field trips and hosting community dinners featuring farm fresh food and local farmers. Direct funding at this level is a first for the National Farm to School Network, and as the mini grant projects take off with the start of the new school year, we’re taking a moment to recognize the impact this new initiative will have.  

Indeed, Seed Change is a new and exciting initiative for the National Farm to School Network. It is the first time we have received a grant (in this case, a generous donation by the Walmart Foundation) and re-granted funds directly at the local level to stimulate state-wide networking and jumpstart school and community participation in farm to school. Sharing in our excitement for this new initiative are our Seed Change state coordinator and partners: Kentucky Department of Agriculture (Ky.), Marketumbrella.org (La.), and The Food Trust (Pa.).  In addition to conducting outreach and training activities, these partners led the state committees that reviewed 185 grant applications in order to select the 100 mini grantees.

You might be wondering about the 85 applicants who, instead of receiving good news on this day, learned that we were unable to fund their proposals. Was our really good day hampered by the blow of also hitting send on these less-than-exciting emails? It was not, and here’s why: the large number of applications we received is great validation for the future of Seed Change and the farm to school movement. These applicants have shown us that schools are excited and ready to start connecting children to local food, and that’s good news as we continue to build partnerships and expand models for seeding change at the local level.

In addition to awarding mini grants, the Seed Change model in Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania incorporates six “demonstration site” school districts, two in each state. Selected for their experience in farm to school leadership, these sites will serve as training hubs for the mini grantees, offering half-day farm to school tours and trainings this fall semester. In addition to modeling successful farm to school programs, these trainings will offer resources and provide opportunities for mini grantees to meet and learn from their colleagues across the state.

Having recently visited all six demonstration sites, I can heartily report that these school districts and their staff are beyond inspirational. Each site is distinctly unique in its farm to school programming and innovations, facilities, and the champions who help make these programs grow. But there is one consistent thread: everyone expressed a sense of commitment to and excitement about their role in helping farm to school thrive. In other words, these folks were having good days, too! Their contagious passion for farm to school and their “can do” entrepreneurial spirits will surely inspire the mini grantees soon to arrive on their campuses.

So, as you can see, our really good day at work did not end when we hit “send” on the mini grant award email. In fact, that was only the beginning of Seed Change, with the most exciting parts yet to unfold. Stay tuned for more good days to come.