The garden at Andrew’s school!
This post was written by Andrew, a Wisconsin seventh-grader and Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador. Fuel Up to Play 60 is an in-school nutrition and physical activity program launched by National Dairy Council and NFL, in collaboration with USDA, to help encourage young people to lead healthier lives.
Guest Post by Andrew, a Wisconsin 7th Grader
I am a student ambassador (for Fuel Up to Play 60) at my middle school in Wisconsin. I live in a dairy state. We have a lot of farms. In the short six mile drive from my house to school, I go by seven farms! There are also some green thumb farmers in our school. That is why we have our very own school garden. Our gardens have 22 garden beds that are planted with different fruits and vegetables in them. With those fruits and vegetables, we can harvest them for our schools so we can eat them! Read more »
Food service staff at a Delaware high school serves up a local lunch, including kale from the school farm.
Along with brilliantly colored hard squash, crisp apples, and hearty greens, October ushers in National Farm to School Month, a time to raise awareness about and celebrate the impact of farm to school programs on children, producers, and communities. Since 2012, I have directed USDA’s Farm to School Program, guiding the work of a small but enthusiastic team at the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Each October, we have more to celebrate: more USDA funds awarded to schools, agencies, and organizations to advance these programs; more money ending up in the pockets of local producers; more school gardens in which students can learn and grow; and more healthful school meals that feature local foods.
A new report, announced by Agriculture Secretary Vilsack earlier this month, helps quantify our celebration. An analysis of grant-making over the last three years reveals that USDA has awarded $15.1 million through 221 grants in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Fifty percent of funded projects included expanding healthy menu options offered in the cafeteria; 46 percent included training for food service staff about menu planning, meal preparation, and cooking with local and regional foods; and 65 percent included nutrition education activities. These funds have helped 12,300 schools improve nutritious meal options made with local ingredients for 6.9 million students, while expanding market opportunities for family farmers and ranchers in their communities. Read more »
An elementary school student in West New York, New Jersey, enjoys a farm fresh bite of yellow tomato, delivered to the school that morning.
Happy National Farm to School Month! Every October, the USDA Farm to School team is overwhelmed with stories of how farm to school programs are affecting kids, producers, and communities. Having now made 221 grants to school districts and other entities across the country to pursue projects that bring more local foods into schools and teach kids about where their foods comes from, we experience a steady stream of encouraging stories throughout the year. Stories about local farmers proudly supplying grains for a district’s whole grain baked goods; stories about school food service staff dressing up like fruits and vegetables to encourage healthy eating; stories about kids growing beets in the school garden and then devouring them when they show up in the cafeteria. During Farm to School Month, these anecdotes proliferate–on social media, on blogs, and via news stories. They inspire us, amuse us, and sometimes even make us tear up, but they don’t unequivocally prove that these programs work. For that, we rely on studies and surveys, on journal articles and evaluation results. Read more »
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 »
Celebratory events in recognition of National Farm to School Month are taking place across the country, and in many forms! Here in the Northeast, the Maine Department of Education chose to develop and execute their first ever Maine Harvest Lunch Week Menu Contest.
Schools were invited to submit a menu from a meal that was served to students during the designated Maine Harvest Lunch Week in late September. The theme this year was “Dig In to Local School Meals,” and participating schools and districts did just that! Schools incorporated local items across the lunch tray in creative and appetizing ways. The menu and photos of students’ trays were submitted to the department to be considered in the contest. Stephanie Stambach coordinated the effort and said that she saw it as one way “to promote the use of local foods in our schools… and to recognize schools for the work they are currently doing with Farm to School.” Read more »
Members of the USDA Farm to School team in front of the USDA headquarters in Washington, DC.
Since the official start of the USDA Farm to School Program, we’ve focused on making sure schools have the tools they need to bring local products into the lunchroom and teach children where their food comes from. As October is National Farm to School Month, it seems an opportune time to take stock of the many resources available from USDA to help bring the farm to school.
One of our newest resources, Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs, covers procurement basics — how to define local, where to find local products, and the variety of ways schools can purchase locally in accordance with regulations. The guide is complemented by a twelve-part webinar series called Finding, Buying and Serving Local Foods. Our fact sheets cover topics that range from USDA grants and loans that support farm to school activities to working with Cooperative Extension professionals to grow your program, while a brand new Farm to School Planning Toolkit offers eleven distinct chapters on everything from school gardens to menu planning, marketing and more. Read more »