The term “farm to preschool” encompasses efforts to serve local or regionally produced foods in early child care and education settings; provide hands-on learning activities such as gardening, farm visits, and culinary activities; and integrate food-related education into the curriculum. Here, USDA Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon participates in a hands-on lesson about local foods at a YMCA preschool in West Seattle, WA.
“May I have more kale chips, please?” asked a four-year old preschooler during one of my first site visits as farm to school lead for the Food and Nutrition Service’s Western Region. The preschoolers I was visiting grew and harvested the kale themselves a few feet beyond their classroom door and were enjoying the crisp treat as a snack. At the time, the USDA Farm to School Program was just beginning to expand their support to K-12 schools. Since then, I have worked with school districts in bringing the farm to their cafeterias and classrooms.
Our reasons for supporting farm to preschool are numerous. While the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 authorized the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to establish the Farm to School Program, the legislation also expanded the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to not only aid child care institutions in serving nutritious foods, but to contribute to their wellness, healthy growth and development. Farm to preschool meets that requirement, and is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a strategy to increase access to healthy environments. As evidenced by the eager kale chip request, farm to preschool efforts can set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating. Read more »
Ballerina Megan Stearns dances the lead role of the farmer in Vermont’s Farm to Ballet project.
Vermont’s agricultural history will soon be enriched as a new Farm to Ballet project aims to celebrate the state’s farming culture and expose a new audience to the beauty of classical ballet. The endeavor is the brainchild of former professional dancer and Vermont native Chatch Pregger. His farm-based ballet tells the story of a Vermont farming operation from spring to fall.
The fertile soils of Vermont’s pastoral farmland will provide the ‘stage’ for the dancers. “Now that I’ve seen the dancers, in a farm environment, I realize this is how I’ve always wanted to see ballet–in this setting. In its grittiness, its reality–on nature’s perfect stage,” he explained. Farm to Ballet will be presented seven times throughout August at a variety of farming operations. The performances are not financially supported by USDA, so the Farm to Ballet project initiated a fund raising campaign to cover the cost of costumes, props and sets, and many of the shows serve as fundraisers to support and honor the work of Vermont’s farmers and the local food movement. Read more »
Matt Russell (right) with his USDA colleagues Christina Conell (left) and Deborah Kane (center), at the 2015 USDA Farm to School Grantee Gathering in Denver, CO. The annual gathering is an opportunity for Farm to School grantees from across the country to meet face to face, network and share best practices.
“The term ‘farm to school’ involves thinking of the whole plate, so to speak. It’s about increasing the amount of local and regional foods served in school cafeterias while also increasing education and community outreach for kids, and creating market opportunities for producers.”
So says Matt Russell, Grant Program Manager for the Farm to School Program at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Matt works to support school districts, non-profits, and other stakeholders in bringing more local and regional food into the school meal program. Read more »
As the school year draws to a close, many program operators that help keep our nation’s children nourished and active are just ramping up. When school is out, many school districts and an array of nonprofit partners step up to offer healthy summer meals through USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option. Options that provide children who rely on free and reduced price meals access to the nutrition they need to return to school healthy and ready to learn.
With the warm summer sunshine and the sweet taste of the season’s bounty here, it’s a great time to reflect upon some best practices for a flourishing summer meals program. We’re highlighting three examples that emphasize replicable strategies for bringing local, nutritious foods and educational activities to children throughout the long summer break. Read more »
Students plant hundreds of red Russian kale seedlings to be harvested for their summer CSA program. (Photo credit: Jessica Kourkounis)
One of the best parts of my job as a Farm to School Regional Lead for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is visiting schools and districts that are bringing local foods into the cafeteria and teaching students where their food comes from. And I am always particularly excited when I get to visit programs with innovative school garden components, like William Penn High School, part of Delaware’s Colonial School District.
Several years ago, William Penn went through a major restructure. Part of what came out of that process was a renewed commitment to agricultural education, and the recognition that the 117-acre William Penn Historic Farm, operated by a local land trust, could be a major asset to the school. A new agriculture “major” was established, and students took over two acres of the adjacent parcel to grow more than 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables. They also started a CSA program selling shares to teachers and community members. Read more »
Beautiful meals like this are what’s for lunch today and every day in schools across the country. (Photo credit: Matthew Noel)
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the digital age we have ample opportunity to document and broadcast every moment, meeting and meal. We have all seen those unappetizing photos of food served at school that quickly go viral. A lonesome whole wheat bun atop a sad fish fillet; a mysterious-looking meat mixture served next to an apple. It’s natural to ask, “Is this what they serve for lunch!?”
No, it’s really not. Read more »