By Kole Fitzpatrick, Intertribal Agriculture Council, Rocky Mountain Region
Photo credit: Hardin School District
This blog is part of a series of profiles of Native Farm to School Champions, organized and collated by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC). IAC is NFSN's 2019 National Partner of the Year, and we are excited to collaborate with IAC on this storytelling project to celebrate farm to school activities happening across Indian Country. These Champion profiles were written and submitted by IAC's Regional Technical Assistance Specialists, and these programs will be recognized for the farm to school leadership at the 2019 IAC Annual Meeting. Learn more about the IAC at www.indianag.org.
Hardin School District has had an enhanced focus on farm to school, specifically through community partnerships, increased access to healthy school meals, and expanded nutrition education. These farm to school initiatives have taken root through the funding and cooperation of our School Nutrition Department, under which the farm to school program functions. Our main focus has been connecting classroom, cafeteria, and community by growing relationships between students and the community to the land and food.
One of the most exciting ways of furthering this connection is the native orchard planted by students at Crow Agency Public School. At the end of the 2018 school year, students K-5 planted chokecherries, service berries, plums, currants, and elderberries, which was possible through a grant as part of National Farm to School Network’s Seed Change in Native Communities. Our goal in this native orchard project is to empower students in learning about traditional foods, preparation, storage, and ceremony. These plants will serve as a gathering place for classes, a community resource, and most importantly, a native food source for students K-5 to harvest, cook, and learn.
The variety of traditional berries and plums helps bring students together with elders and community leaders who can pass down and celebrate Crow traditions surrounding these foods. While waiting anxiously on the plants to establish and begin producing, students will continue hands-on cooking, gardening and nutrition lessons in their class. During this time, the farm to school coordinator will work with teachers from each grade level to create an orchard curriculum cookbook. Through this cookbook, teachers will be supported in incorporating the orchard into their classrooms, with lesson plans, community speakers, and recipes for each traditional plant. Each grade will be in charge of a different variety in the orchard, learning all about that variety, while looking forward to a new fruit each school year. For example, the fifth grade classes are in charge of the chokecherries, which community elders will be invited into the classroom to teach students how to make chokecherry jam. Fifth grade students will then harness their entrepreneurship skills by creating a label for the jam to be sold by students at the local farmers market throughout the year.
Nationwide, farm to school has been an integral part of supporting localization and promoting healthier food access. Although that may look different in each region, school, and community, our farm to school program has grown each year through community partnerships and hands-on educational opportunities to incorporate traditional foods. In our schools, our District Wellness Policy ensures that students k-12 are gaining a much more rounded approach to nutrition by incorporating nutrition education from gym class and extracurriculars to the cafeteria.
In the last four years, Hardin School Nutrition has also employed a FoodCorps member, who serves to create a positive school-wide culture of health, rooted in hands-on learning and healthy school meals. In this time, we have increased nutrition and garden education from 3 monthly classes to, on average, 30 bi-weekly lessons. Cooking, gardening, and tasting in the class allows students to grow their relationship with their food and the land it comes from. Expanding into the community, students throughout the district have had the opportunity to meet their farmer, take farm field trips, and harvest from the garden. Through this experiential learning, we hope to empower students in their food choices and commitment to community.
Learn more about Hardin School District here: http://www.hardin.k12.mt.us/