By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

When I think about food, especially during the holiday season, I think about my traditions with family and friends. From holidays to birthdays and reunions, food has always been a central part of my celebration of life events. In the recently published New York Times Op-ed titled Feeling Conflicted on Thanksgiving Viet Thanh Nguyen explains, “DNA, in any case, tells us little about culture. Food tells us more.“ Farm to school is as much about food, culture, and celebration as it is about education, health and access.

Schools and early care settings across all 50 states, D.C., the U.S. Territories, and Native communities are using farm to school as an approach to deepen their understanding of food as a tool for cultural connection and celebration. At Warm Spring K-8 Academy on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, there is urgency to connecting school and community culture to food traditions.  District Superintendent Ken Parnell explains:

You can’t just focus on math and literacy, because the rate of diabetes in our community is heartbreaking. Male life expectancy is 38 years. Many adults die from complications from diabetes. You can’t just say that’s a health concern and leave that in the community (outside of the school), because it affects our students. In my first year, eleven students lost parents. We have a responsibility to start working with students at a young age around nutrition.

The school district has framed farm to school as an opportunity to connect students to local, healthy, and traditional foods, such as root vegetables and salmon.  As the school became more engaged with these traditional foods in the cafeteria, they also realized there were opportunities to extend farm to school activities to families. For example, the school district’s family engagement nights, which turnout up to 1,000 students and family members, provided an exciting opportunity to celebrate healthy, traditional foods on a wider scale. After reflecting of how to better incorporate traditions into family nights, the district planned a powwow where everyone participated in dancing and enjoyed traditional food. Ken added, “It would have been much easier from the (school) kitchen (to work alone), but we worked with tribal partners to prepare traditional foods.”  

Every community has different food and cultural traditions – and that’s worth celebrating! Here are several additional snapshots of how farm to school celebrates traditions, relationships, and an overall connection to community-based food:

- Students in Arkansas are celebrating the holiday season and learning about each other cultures with a recipe swap. One student shared a family recipe dating back to 1911!

- In preparation for the upcoming holiday season, middle school students in rural Iowa learned about table settings, polite dinner conversation, and menu selection. To conclude their class, they enjoyed a Thanksgiving lunch together where they could put all they learned into practice.

- For about 20 Phoenix School culinary students, preparations to feed a Thanksgiving feast to 200 students and staff would not be complete without a trip to the school’s garden. Picking herbs from the garden was among the tasks needed to be finished before Tuesday’s big event.