Summer is the season when harvests of healthful foods are most abundant: gardens overflow with zucchini and berries, trees are laden with sweet, ripe fruit, and farmers tend and harvest crops from dawn until dusk. Despite the seasonal abundance, many children go hungry when school is out and the food programs that fed them during the year are no longer part of their daily routine.
Bringing summer’s bounty to hungry kids is “just common sense” according to Cathy Rogers, School Food Service Director for Pipestone Area Schools, located in a small city of 4,000 in the southwest corner of Minnesota. Every day during the summer months, she serves fresh foods from local producers to 400 of her students.
One key to her success is Rogers’ relationships with growers. By being part of the summer food safety net, local farmers and ranchers feel empowered to help combat childhood hunger; in addition, they are often able to be more flexible with pricing and delivery during the summer. Rogers’ kitchen staff is also excited about providing healthful meals to the kids, even if it means snapping a lot of beans.
The children who eat at Rogers’ summer meal site are regularly served tomatoes, apples, melons, micro-greens, and even bison from local farms and ranches. Rogers’ relationships with growers and staff mean she can provide lots of menu choices, and the great flavors of these fresh foods bring kids back, making the program highly successful. The produce from the district’s multiple school gardens also makes the bottom line a bit easier to meet, but as Rogers says, “If the food is good, the kids are going to eat it and [the bottom line] takes care of itself.”
To help hungry children in your community access summer meals, here are a few ways to get involved and informed:
- Visit www.summerfood.usda.gov to learn about the USDA Summer Meal Programs and about how your organization can become a sponsor or site. Sponsors run the program through agreements with your state, while sites are the places where meals are served. Contact your state agency (listings can be found here) to find out if there are existing sponsors in your area with whom you can partner to serve meals!
- Conduct community outreach with the National Hunger Hotline. Help ensure families know where kids can go to receive a nutritious meal by contacting the hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE, or by visiting www.whyhunger.org/findfood.
- Promote and use the Summer Food Service Program Outreach Toolkit. The Outreach Toolkit helps sponsors and sites create outreach materials that will help the community learn about the program. The toolkit and other resources can be found at www.summerfood.usda.gov.
- Watch these pre-recorded webinars on farm to school in summer from the California Summer Meals Coalition.
Farm to school and the summer meal programs are a natural fit: when many of our nation’s children are struggling the most with hunger, fresh, local foods are cheapest and most abundant.