October is Farm to School Month…and we’re starting our celebration now!
National Farm to School (F2S) month was designated by Congress in 2010. Its purpose is to highlight the value of farm to school programs as a way to accomplish many good things, including improving child nutrition, teaching youth about where their food comes from and supporting local economies. F2S provides a lot to get behind.
F2S is booming…and a vital national organization is providing leadership to “grow” movement
Based on the USDA Farm to School Census (2015), F2S programs are found in more than 42,000 schools nationwide (representing more than 40% of U.S. schools). More than 23 million students are engaged. Forty states have “supporting” F2S policies in place. To explore the USDA Census data, visit this USDA page.
I’m a big fan of F2S programs. They work. Last year, I spoke with Anupama Joshi, executive director and co-founder of the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), which has been around since 2007.
NFSN serves as the information, advocacy and networking hub for communities, which are working to encourage farm to school programs by supporting local food sourcing as well as food and agriculture education in school systems and preschools. The organization works at the local, state, regional and national levels to connect and grow the farm to school movement. In fact, the NFSN is driven by the premise that “farm to school empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities.”
When we spoke, Anupama told me this:
“In the bigger picture, school meals need to be seen as an opportunity and core element of what the student experience in schools is about. The connections between nutrition and educational outcomes are often lost, and need to be highlighted.”
She’s absolutely right. Read more about F2S and NFSN’s work here.
Making hands-on connection: Salad Bar Farms at California middle school
Chris Massa is the farm to school operations specialist for Ventura Unified School District. He’s a recent University of California 30 Under 30 Award winner. The awards were presented by UC’s Global Food Initiative to honor extraordinary work by young people in the food system.
I’ve known Chris for a while. We collaborated on some youth and food projects while he was a service member with FoodCorps. He is inspired in part by a World War I model called the United States School Garden Army.
I recently visited him at the inaugural Salad Bar Farms at Balboa Middle School in Ventura, California. Here’s what he told me:
“A big thing is student participation in the school lunch program. Revenue comes from getting kids to buy school lunch. We think – and research bears this out – that having kids plant, weed, harvest and taking fruits and vegetables to the cafeteria mean they’ll be more likely to eat it.
Students take pride in growing the food that’s being served. They tell their friends and maybe more kids will want to buy the school lunch. And a big benefit could be that kids are more willing and accustomed to eating fresh fruits and vegetables…and they are also learning about agriculture.”
Chris’ work is changing the lives of young people in the community I live in. This could even become a national role model. Learn more.
Food Corps Service Members help support F2S efforts
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. These leaders are in limited-resource communities for a year of public service. During this time, they teach hands-on lessons about food and nutrition; build and tend school gardens and teach cooking lessons; and help change what’s on lunch trays by giving kids healthy food from local farms. Their work is a vital part of improving school food environments.
We spoke with co-founder Jerusha Klemperer and she shared these thoughts about school food environments:
“We want to make the case for it being a given that this is what education looks like and what school food environments look like. We want districts and schools to be able to have these programs. Some districts we work with have started to hire FoodCorps alumni, which we see as an encouraging sign.”
These organizations and individuals, along with so many more, are working to connect farm-fresh foods to school meals. We salute their important work during National Farm to School Month … and every month.
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Food Literacy Center is teaching the next generation about healthy foods in Sacramento area.