National Farm to School Month: a path to our future!
Guest post by Melody Meyer, UNFI Foundation
Growing up in Iowa in a much simpler era, we did not have one “food day." Farm fresh food was as much a part of our lives as the billowy clouds that rolled across the sky. My German grandparents cultivated a garden instead of grass for a backyard. Arbors of succulent concord grapes defined rows of string beans, tomatoes and sweet corn. My grandfather was in charge of the growing while my grandmother commanded the preserving, basting, baking and pickling! Pretty much everything we ate every day was farm to table! How else would one eat?
How else indeed: Let’s fast forward 50 years. After decades of corn and soy subsidies, many children think a meal sprouts magically from a box and that chickens have nuggets! We have edged so far away from our food supply that we have cultivated generations of eaters who simply don’t know where their food comes from.
In 2010, Congress designated October National Farm to School Month as a way to change that harrowing trend. This was promising recognition that Farm to School programs can improve the health and nutrition of our youth. These initiatives educate the next generation of mindful consumers. They connect our youth to days when fresh organic food was plucked from trees and pulled from the ground. It was washed, chopped, basted and baked. Farm to table becomes a delicious adventure into eating differently. It changes the relationship children have with the soil, the sun and the seasons. The natural environment becomes the playground, the classroom and the food pantry all in one!
The UNFI Foundation supports The National Farm to School Network (NFSN), which provides resources to implement and celebrate Farm to School Month and similar projects all year long. For example, the Toddle-Inn, Saco Maine preschool used a grant from UNFI and NFSN to give preschoolers a better understanding of where their food comes from. They planted a vegetable garden for the center and made field trips to local dairy farms and apple orchards. The toddlers even got to experience making applesauce and then gobbled it with lunch!
The New Foundations Charter High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is in an urban area greatly in need of nutrition programs. They used grant funds to take high school students to a local farm that holds a farmer’s market at another K-8 school. After learning about eating farm fresh, they collaborated with school staff on the Food Day celebrations in order to activate their peers.
One innovative twist took place at Daniel High School in South Carolina, where ninth-grade students embarked on a project that integrated English Common Core Standards with a garden, growing vegetables and culinary herbs. Gardening and farming were woven throughout the course through reading, listening to guest speakers, and investigating outside sources of information. This course culminated in the students conducting an oral history investigation of food and farming, and then organizing a guided garden tour that took place on Food Day!
National Farm to School Month lasts through all of October, and many activities will climax on Food Day, October 24th! The National Farm to School Network has resources and activities to promote Farm to School Month in schools, communities and media outlets including a new Communications Toolkit. The toolkit contains an explanation of this year’s Farm to School Month activities, a sample press release, and suggested social media posts.
Let’s ensure that our children have the tools they need to make healthy food choices every day. Let’s provide resources so they create a future with healthy bodies and a connection to the natural world. Farm to school provides a legacy so that our youth can establish a future of environmental stewardship through nutritious, delicious and wholesome food. Won’t you please be part of that future? Support Farm to school projects!