From Vermont to Georgia and Utah to Virginia (and thousands of places in between) farm to school efforts are rapidly adapting to promote community-grown food and the health and wellbeing of children, families, farms and communities. There is no one magic formula to help children feel more connected while social distancing, support families in home gardening and nutrition education, or address food insecurity, but that has not stopped folks from around the country from stepping up to meet the needs of their communities.

Recognizing the importance of adapting and innovating in this challenging time, we're highlighting five new models that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic to promote and support farm to school, farm to early care and education (ECE), and farm to food bank. Read on for  insights, lessons learned, and ideas for new partnership and collaboration that can keep farm to school moving during a time when everything feels like it's changing.

Photo courtesy of Farm Alliance Baltimore

Story submitted by Anne Rosenthal, Farm to School Programming Specialist at Great Kids Farm in Baltimore, Maryland

Great Kids Farm (GKF), a 33-acre property of abundant fields and forest just west of the city, was originally bought by Rev. George Freeman Bragg as a school and foster home for young boys from Baltimore City. The school provided kids not only with educational opportunities but also with practical experience in agriculture and other trade skills. The land was then purchased by Baltimore City Public Schools in the 1950s, and then in 2008 a campaign clean up and restore began. Currently the land is owned and operated by Baltimore City Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services and used by Great Kids Farm in partnership with Baltimore City Schools as a space to help students connect deeply to the sources of their food, and commit to leading their communities towards a healthier, greener future.

“The students were super engaged and really enjoyed seeing the different plants and animals! It was such a great opportunity to connect the learning that they're doing virtually to real life!” – Hannah Kennedy, first grade teacher at Elmer A. Henderson: after a Facetime the Farmer session.

A Facetime the Farmer Session at GFK. Photo courtesy of Laura Genello

With daily on-farm programs cancelled at GKF, the farm to school staff has sought new ways to reach students. In coordination with the Living Classroom Foundation and Friends of Great Kids Farm, GKF created more than 3,000 windowsill garden activity kits which included tomato and pepper seedlings sourced from produce grown at Great Kids Farm. These kits and seedlings were distributed directly to summer programs serving students.

Photo of one of the 3,000 windowsill garden activity kits developed by GKF staff.
Photo courtesy of Laura Genello

A regular part of the GKF experience for students is curriculum-aligned field trips to the farm, themed student summits with expert-led workshops, and paid work opportunities for highschoolers. While much of the in-person programming has been suspended due to the pandemic, GKF and the farm to school staff has been able to continue to engage students in farm-based education through "Facetime the Farmer" sessions. During these sessions GKF provides live, virtual farm tours, aiming to align with the students current curriculum. GKF and farm to school staff have also started a Youtube series, What’s GROWIN on @ the Farm? to engage students and families while providing a glimpse of the farm from their homes.