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!
DC Central Kitchen is the food service provider for 15 schools in Washington, DC – 12 DC Public Schools located primarily in Ward 7, and 3 private and charter schools serving low-income children. They source ingredients from over 30 local family farms and every meal is scratch-cooked according to recipes designed by their expert team of chefs and dietitians.
DCCK fights hunger differently by providing high-quality nutrition through school meals that kids rely on to learn and grow while sustaining meaningful, living-wage careers for at-risk adults who have completed their Culinary Job Training program. In addition to providing meals, DCCK offers engaging cooking demonstrations, taste tests, and nutrition education lessons for the students and staff at the schools they serve. Just last year, they served 870,000 school meals to low-income students and invested over $296,000 in our local farm economy.
Last week, we had the pleasure of eating a DCCK lunch (pictured above) at Walker Jones Education Campus. Featured were local green beans, local sweet potato fries, BBQ Tofu (or Chicken), a corn muffin and fresh orange wedges. Doesn’t get much better than that! Check out DCCK’s lunch menu for the month of November!
Ellen Royse is the Environmental Science and Urban Ecology Teacher at Capital City Public Charter School. In her role, she co-organizes the 11th grade’s annual Youth Food Justice Summit.
This month we asked her, “When was your Farm to School ‘aha’ moment?” Here’s her reply:
At the end of our school garden market each week, the high school students who have worked the market are allowed to take as much of the leftover produce home as they will use. When we first gave students this opportunity, I wasn’t sure how students would respond. Would they even be interested in sweet potatoes and spinach? When I held the bags up to students, though, their eyes and smiles widened. “You mean we can take as much as we want?” Soon my students were shoving produce into bags and bragging about all the food they were going to make. Students took bags and bags of produce. In that moment I realized how much youth love and crave healthy food options, and how important it is to provide opportunities for them to access fresh, delicious food.
Jordan Carter, DC Greens Food Access Fellow
As a California native, you may be wondering how I discovered DC Greens. While pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and Nutrition Sciences, I took a course titled “Current Topics in Health” which opened my eyes to the need for food justice advocates addressing chronic disease prevalence in the United States. After researching nonprofit organizations across the country working on these issues, I found DC Greens. Last summer I worked with DC Greens as a School Garden Army Intern at Tyler Elementary School while also working with DC Central Kitchen as a Local Food Intern. Immediately I was interested in “breaking the chain” in chronic disease development by connecting students to their local food system through food production, nutrition education, and physical activity. My internship activities with DC Greens and DC Central Kitchen introduced me to the food activist movement in the nation’s capital that’s working on food access, food policy, and food education.
After returning to Whittier College for my senior year, I was determined to share the knowledge I acquired in D.C. with the children in Whittier, California. I created and implemented an 8-week nutrition intervention curriculum involving nutrition education, garden education, and food demonstrations at Hoover Elementary School. Through this program, all fourth graders at Hoover Elementary learned how to grow their own food in the school’s garden and learned about the importance of nutrition through hands on exhibitions. Students applied their baseline knowledge to make connections with local farmers and food activists including Robert Egger, the founder of DC Central Kitchen and LA Kitchen, in order to have a greater understanding of real world applications and opportunities in the food system. By assessing students before and after the intervention, we were able to show that students increased their nutrition and garden knowledge significantly over the course of the program.
Upon completion of my bachelor’s degree, I was eager to return to DC to gain more experience working with families in underserved communities. This summer, I returned to DC Greens as the Food Access Fellow and had a bird’s eye view of the Produce Plus Program while working closely with market managers, volunteers, and DC residents to expand food access across the city.Throughout the summer I provided technical support for the new Produce Plus app technology, implemented line management best practices, fostered the creation of inclusive spaces for all DC residents, and trained over 300 Farmers’ Market Brigade volunteers who distributed $550,000 in Produce Plus! Additionally, I gained first hand experience with the interwoven social injustices that surround food insecurity and the challenges citizens have to face in order to secure healthy foods for their families. I encouraged DC residents to contact their city councilmembers and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners to advocate for institutional change and increased support for food access programs.
DC Greens has inspired me to challenge structural inequalities and strive for equity rather than equality based programming. DC Greens collaborates with federal organizations, private organizations, nonprofit organizations, and community members to increase awareness of social determinants of health and work towards a more just food system. My experience this summer reaffirmed my desire to work on justice issues as an advocate for policies that improve the quality of life for all citizens regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, and socio-economic status.
Lola Bloom is the Operations Manager and Wellness Coordinator at DC Bilingual Public Charter School. In her role, she oversees food service and promotes nutrition and garden- based education for students, staff and families. She is a co-founder of City Blossoms, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering healthy communities by developing creative, kid-driven green spaces and innovative resources.
This week we asked her, “When was your Farm to School ‘aha’ moment?” Here’s her reply:
I have thought a lot about this, and I have to say that I have been doing this for so long that it’s super hard to think of one aha! moment. My favorite moments have always been when I get to stand back and learn something new from participants in a workshop. An example of this was years ago when I was working with a weekly middle-school group at Marion St. We always found it challenging to get middle schoolers engaged and enthusiastic in the lessons, no matter how clear the instructions or how cool we thought the project was. After some frustration I thought grumpily “Well, if they are so hot, maybe THEY should teach the class”. And the next time I planned my first iron-chef style competition, where the kids were divided in two teams, given the same ingredients and a recipe, and told to make it themselves without my help. I changed my role to scorekeeper for the teams on presentation, cleanliness, and team work, set the timer for 30 minutes and let them go. The kids loved it, and completely dove into the lesson with zero behavior issues. Nobody sat and sulked or acted up. At the end, both groups not only successfully made the recipe, but made beautiful versions that they were incredibly proud of and couldn’t wait to eat. And I barely had to do anything besides watch! Of course the kids demanded we do this again and again. Experiences like this remind me that the most valuable learning is a two-way exchange, and that independence is just as important as instruction.