May 3, 2013

What Makes a Farm to School Field Trip?

By: Karissa McCarthy, Farm to School Coordinator

Students touch, taste, and investigate during farm field trips.

Where can you find kindergartners speaking eloquently on pollination and first graders eagerly tasting sorrel? On a farm field trip! This week I had the pleasure of joining two elementary groups at Common Good City Farm and Washington Youth Garden. Working through stations, field trip-goers explored decomposition at the compost piles, played games on pollination, weeded lettuce beds, toured, tasted and touched spring plants, and investigated for insects.

Aside from wanting to enjoy the sunshine and greenery, I came to observe from some of the best what makes a field trip a fantastic farm to school experience. In all of our farm to school work, we operate knowing that experiential opportunities to connect with the growing process are central to cultivating kids’ palates for local produce. We consistently see that “multi-sensory” interaction with familiar and new foods alike creates a willingness to try fresh produce. Engagement through the school garden, a classroom lesson on nutrition, a taste-testing in the cafeteria, and of course a local farm visit all help to develop the story of food from seed to table (or cafeteria tray!).

As DC Greens continue to encourage District teachers to engage their students in farm-based learning, we are developing an assessment tool to aid their search for knock out programs. By learning from some of the best farm sites in and around the District we’ve designing a rubric to measure field trip programs as successful farm to school experiences. Our final goal – a farm to school field trip guide with one-pagers, video trailers, and reviews available for teachers on our website.

So what have we found so far? A farm to school field trip:
–       actively engages students in hands-on learning (planting, harvesting, tasting, touching, smelling);
–       exposes students to a wide variety or plant and animal species;
–       is an extension of the classroom, rooted in educational standards;
–       draws the connection between the food we consume and growing plants;
–       and provides opportunities for extension post visit.

Next on my field trip list – Hard Bargain Farm, Clagett Farm, and Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture. Stay tuned!

April 29, 2013

First Round of Focus Groups

By: Jezra Thompson, Food Access Director

Image association exercise with our farmers’ market focus group.

Last week, DC Greens hosted three focus groups at Martha’s Table to better understand how farmers markets can draw in more federal benefits into the small farm and local economy here in the District. We invited several people from across the city – some who received food assistance, others who didn’t, some who have children, and those that didn’t, and so forth – in an attempt to listen to the voices representative not only of the nation’s capital, but of those who aren’t regularly utilizing farmers markets. We wanted to begin to know more about how the farmers market incentive projects we manage at Bloomingdale, 14th & U, Mount Pleasant, and Glover Park-Burleith, can invite more customers using their food assistance benefits (SNAP/food stamps, WIC and Senior farmers market nutrition benefit checks).

Though the dollar amount of SNAP spent at D.C. farmers markets has increased every year (in 2012 it increased to $34,967 from $18,000 the year before), about $229 million in SNAP benefits are spent in D.C. alone, though most are spent at grocery stores or corner stores. This means that every year we’re improving upon how the farmers’ market community is getting the message across and more people are enjoying farmers markets. However, the amount of benefits spent at farmers markets is still very low, often only representing about 5% of sales. There’s potential within these numbers to bring in more federal dollars into the District, especially since several USDA studies say that every $1 spent in SNAP at a farmers market generates an extra $1.79 in local economic development.

One in five D.C. residents benefit from the SNAP program, and still many families continue to struggle to put enough food on their table. Our farmers market incentive project matches federal benefits spent at these four farmers markets by $10 for every $10 spent in federal benefits. This is a huge help to those families, as well as the farmers vending at these farmers markets, because these extra dollars are placed straight into their pockets. In order for this to happen more often, we need to finesse our message and get to know all of the farmers market customers, new and returning. We want to know what excites them about a community space, how they shop for groceries and what kinds of foods they like to eat. We also want to know more about the barriers many folks face when they try to access farmers markets, how people find out about incentive programs or other similar benefits, and how farmers markets can be useful public spaces enjoyed by everyone.

These are the very questions that brought us all to the table for our first round of focus groups. The information we gleaned from these conversations will guide us in the design of a unique outreach plan that can work with the different cultural landscapes and neighborhood associations in the communities in which we serve. It will also help us draw in more customers and increase federal benefit redemptions at all DC farmers markets. We greatly appreciated everyone’s time and contribution, and especially Martha’s Table for supporting and housing us during these three days of intense working groups. We look forward to continuing these discussions as we move into and through another great farmers market season and begin to plan for additional rounds of focus groups.

April 18, 2013

DC Greens brings Life Lab back to train District garden teachers

By: Sarah Bernardi, School Garden Program Director

Clockwise from left to right – teachers modeling the Candid Camera activity, flower dissection, SGC’s, Kate distributing seedlings

As part of our Growing Garden Teachers Program, we partner with local and national organizations to provide targeted teacher trainings on all aspects of running a successful school garden program. This month, Whitney Cohen, from Life Lab in Santa Cruz, CA came out to train our cohort of garden coordinators on inquiry-based garden science. She modeled five lessons pulled from Life Lab’s The Growing Classroom curriculum. Teachers played the role of students, giving them a solid grasp of how the lesson should be taught, and the confidence to teach it to their students. They also had a chance to reflect and discuss how each lesson could fit into their specific grade level, curriculum, school setting etc. The training took place at Janney Elementary, which boasts an impressive outdoor classroom and garden program led by science teacher Laurie Young, who has done a fantastic job of integrating the garden into the school culture and across the curriculum. Teachers also picked up their first batch of spring seedlings, which were grown by students at Wilson Senior High School. Plantswoman and school garden coordinator extraordinaire Kate Lee of Capital City Farm Co. runs our Seedling Program at Wilson, which provides all of the teachers in our cohort with free seedlings in the spring, summer and fall.

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