October is National Farm to School month. The grassroots-based initiative strives for better eating habits through agriculture education.
As part of the festivities, students will take field trips to farms and farmers markets, and local farmers will visit classrooms to share samples of their harvest.
In some districts, school gardens bring students even closer to the food cultivation experience. Parents and teachers say this hands-on approach encourages kids to at least try foods they might otherwise shun.
According to Anupama Joshi, executive director and co-founder of the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), building connections between students and agriculture helps to create a new food culture—one in which kids eat better, local farmers get support, and the community at large gets a better appreciation of where their food comes from.
Know Your Food
“It’s not just children that are lacking this knowledge. We found that many adults—teachers, parents, and food service staff at the school who are going to be working with this product—do not necessarily know where it comes from or what it looks like when it comes out of the ground,” said Joshi.
Congress declared October as National Farm to School month in 2010 as way to address obesity and improve student nutrition, but a grassroots effort to connect schools with local farms first emerged in the late 1990s.
NFSN was founded to help make farm to school connections easier to accomplish. The NFSN network promotes the lessons learned in successful programs, and offers training, information on best practices, and policy recommendations so that new programs aren’t forced to reinvent the wheel.
All 50 States
Today, farm to school initiatives are found in all 50 states, and tens of thousands of schools have instituted programs to fit local circumstances.
For students who don’t have the opportunity for a field trip, participating schools post pictures of local farms to get kids thinking about the origin of their food. Joshi says posters, and other materials used in the classroom help the message resonate in urban areas that can’t as easily connect to a local farm.
Demand for Local
“Many large school districts work directly with food service management companies, and they are hearing from their customers too that they want local and indigenous products as much of possible. So they’re figuring out ways for buying from local farmers,” said Joshi.
NFSN says farm to school is a multifaceted solution to a multifaceted problem. Teachers plan nutrition education activities, such as Harvest of the Month to showcase a local, in-season food. Alaskan schools, for example, feature fish to school programs to highlight the state’s abundance of salmon.
While farm to school programs may differ from one region to the next, Joshi said any combination of classroom activities with healthier choices is a recipe for success.
“The experiential learning that kids can get from the farm to school program really kicks in their passion for healthier food and healthier lifestyle. We believe it’s a holistic approach that really makes systemic changes in our communities,” she said.