Karen Davison is the FoodCorps Fellow in Washington, DC. In her role, she supports a team of 11 FoodCorps Service Members who bring healthy food and school garden education to schools across the city. Learn more about DC FoodCorps here!
This month we asked her, “When was your Farm to School ‘aha’ moment?” Here’s her reply:
My first year as a FoodCorps service member, I hosted monthly taste tests of seasonal produce in the cafeteria. The first month, we tried cooked carrots. Students and staff alike approached my table with apprehension and mistrust — “Why are you here?” “What are you promoting?” “Is it healthy?” One by one, they filed by the table, quickly tasting the food and casting their vote with wooden coins in a milk jug. Even with the familiarity of carrots on my side, the “loved it” bucket had very few coins compared to the politely-stated “tried it” jug.
The next month, I decided to approach the taste test differently. I was starting to build rapport with students and teachers outside of the cafeteria and was able to schedule at least a lesson per grade leading up to the taste tests. Students started seedlings, harvested what was in the garden, learned nutrition facts — all corresponding with that month’s produce in the spotlight: butternut squash.
When the day came for our second taste test, the 5th grade class helped peel and cube the squash. I set up my table in the corner of the cafeteria just as I had before, finished preparing the butternut squash and waited for the first lunch period to begin. As the first students filed in, they slowly started to notice my table. Hands went up in greeting and the air started bubbling with excitement: “Did we grow that?” “Is that from the garden?” “I wonder if we can get seconds!” The students sampled the squash and, again, cast their votes.
Although there were still plenty of “Tried it” votes, the attitude about trying food had already started to shift. Watching students get excited about new food and then talking about what they liked or didn’t like about the recipe was my Farm to School “aha” moment. Getting students involved with their food — cooking, growing, harvesting, even just touching — is immensely successful in changing student’s food preferences, choices, and attitudes.
Patrick McDermott is the DC Program Manager for Common Threads. In his role, he partners with schools and community-based organizations in underserved areas across the District to teach kids how to cook and eat healthy meals.
This month we asked him, “When was your Farm to School ‘aha’ moment?” Here’s his reply:
Before I came to Common Threads, I worked in a few different restaurant kitchens throughout DC, and one of the biggest things I learned was that fresh ingredients are essential to putting out the best possible product. We worked directly with the farmers and producers to get fresh ingredients whenever possible because customers demand the highest quality. When I started teaching nutrition in schools as a Chef Instructor for Common Threads, I saw that schools haven’t made that same connection yet for the food they serve their students. It just seemed like common sense to me that in order to help children be the best version of themselves, then you need to make sure you feed them the best food we can offer them.
Morgan Maloney is the Farm Education Director at the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. She oversees Arcadia’s Farm & Nutrition Education Programs, a rich mosaic of Farm to School programs and a Farm Camp that serve about 2,700 schoolchildren in D.C. and Northern Virginia each year.
This month we asked her, “When was your Farm to School ‘aha’ moment?” Here’s her reply:
My Farm to School “aha” moment came pretty early in my time at Arcadia, although it was not my last! I was teaching the Taste Sensation Station to a group of 1st graders during one of our Farm Field Trips.
I launched into the lesson and received mixed emotions from the students when I told them that we were going to make a raw carrot and beet salad. Some groaned with dislike for one or both veggies, and others seemed willing to at least consider it. A few even said, “but do we actually have to eat it?!” That’s when I told them that they would be the ones making the salad. Some of the groaning turned to cheering while some students indicated that they would decide how they felt after the salad was all prepared—so I knew I had a good challenge on my hands! Using their trusty “claw hand” to hold their vegetable properly, each student got a chance to use the grater to shred a carrot and a beet. We combined the shredded ingredients, gave it a quick stir, and then it was time to taste.
One by one, they cautiously took their first bite of Carrot & Beet Salad…and one by one I saw beet juice smiles appear from ear to ear. The reviews were unanimous– beets and carrots are delicious! These kids continued to amaze me when they asked for seconds and fell just short of licking the bowl. That’s when I learned how important it was for kids to get hands-on with their food. When they grow it, harvest it, and prepare it, they’ll eat it!
Last month, DC Greens celebrated the end of a successful Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program season with our new program partners, Mary’s Center and Briya Public Charter School. As part of the celebration, Ibti Vincent, a Community Nutrition Educator, led a fun, hands-on cooking lesson where families helped prepare delicious sweet potato tacos, cilantro lime yogurt, and cabbage slaw. The recipes were a huge hit, and several participants were excited to prepare them for their families at home! You can check out Ibti’s write-up of the day on her blog.
Through the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, patients with diet-related chronic illnesses receive prescriptions from their health care provider for free farmers’ market produce. Click here to learn more.
Why should chronic disease prevention efforts focus on children? More Americans die from chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular disease or cancer) than communicable diseases (such as the flu or measles) annually, and the CDC reports heart disease and cancer as the top two causes of death, with more than 1.1 million deaths each year. Prevention is the best form of treatment and can even start as early as pregnancy or infancy, when adequate nutrition is vital to the growth and development of healthy children. In addition to nutrition education, food access is also essential during childhood and adolescence: Casey and Associates from the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute declared that poverty and food insecurity are associated with high risk of development of chronic diseases in teenagers. To increase the health and longevity of children in the United States, it is critical that public health professionals, government agencies, and nonprofits create environments, systems, and policies that support nutrition education and food access and make the nutritious choice the easy choice.
On the national level, programs like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), WIC, and the National School Lunch Program play a significant role in the quality of food children and adolescents receive:
- More than 50% of Infants in the United States currently participate in (WIC) (USDA 2016)
- More than 70% of the 30.5 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program receive free or reduced lunch (FRAC 2016)
- SNAP currently reaches 43 million U.S. Citizens (FRAC 2016)
These programs provide an excellent foundation for additional programming at the local level. Here in DC, DC Greens’ Food Education team is collaborating with a number of partners, including the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the National Farm to School Network, and the District of Columbia Public Schools. We work to ensure that children understand fundamental nutrition concepts, are connected to their local food systems, have safe spaces to engage in physical activity, and have access to nutritious foods! Our food education programs empower teachers to incorporate gardening and nutrition education into their classroom curriculum and encourages collaboration with DC Central Kitchen, Revolution Foods, and Sodexo, DCPS’ food service provider, to improve the quality of food served at schools across the city! Through these programs and partnerships across all sectors, we are supporting chronic disease prevention with children at the center.
Want more information? Check out these articles:
WIC to 6 – More than 100k children age out of WIC before starting school
Benefits of Farm to School– Much more than fruits and vegetables
Good Food Purchasing Policy– Justice in the food system
…Students across the district have a better way of raising money. Instead of pushing cookies and cupcakes, students are opting for carrots and kabocha squash, transforming 13 DC schools into healthy food access points within their community.
This November marks the 7th season of DC Greens’ School Garden Market program. For those not familiar, a SGM is a single-vendor farmers’ market located on school property and managed by the students and staff of that school. Students harvest produce from their school garden and supplement their markets with a bounty of produce from local farms. This Fall, we launched a partnership with The Common Market, a mission-driven distributor of local foods to the Mid-Atlantic region, for the additional produce.
SGMs offer schools an exciting opportunity to engage community members in the school garden, show off their fruitful harvests and develop deeper connections between the food they grow and the food they eat. The benefits of the program abound:
• Students also gain hands-on math and marketing skills while running the farm stand;
• By meeting families where they are and providing SNAP machines to the farm stands, schools become much-needed food access points for low-income residents;
• Proceeds from the school garden markets circle directly back into the school garden program, creating a closed-loop and building sustainability; and
• The program creates new markets for local farmers to sell their fresh produce.
This Fall’s markets will run through the week of Thanksgiving, so if you’re interested in seeing one in action and/or starting a School Garden Market at your school, contact Lea@dcgreens.org!