Newsletter of National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service: A program of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). This issue of ATTRAnews is available online.
FoodCorps is a win-win for American children and American farmers
FoodCorps service member Aaron French and Waterloo, Iowa, students are watering newly transplanted tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. The garden is at a summer feeding site that serves breakfast and lunch to schoolchildren during the summer when school breakfast and lunch programs are not available. Photo: Neo Mazur
By Karen Van Epen, NCAT Agriculture Specialist
In 2006, NCAT agriculture specialist Crissie McMullan founded the nation's first FoodCorps as a state-level program in Montana. It has since blossomed into a vibrant movement to improve children's health and get fresh local produce into school cafeterias.
Building on the success of the Montana project and similar initiatives, several nonprofit organizations banded together in 2009 to create a national FoodCorps, which now has more than 90 service members and fellows working in 12 states.
FoodCorps aims to address an epidemic. If present trends continue, one-third of American children will become diabetic. For minority children, that rate is one in two. One of four children in the United States are hungry.
FoodCorps service members fight these trends by teaching children that fresh, healthy food can be delicious. They cook with students and teachers. They build and tend school gardens that serve as outdoor classrooms for hands-on nutrition education. They locate high-quality local food to bring into public school cafeterias.
Since August 2012, service members have reached more than 60,000 children, created 225 garden projects, harvested 23,000 pounds of produce for kids, and recruited more than 2,500 community volunteers to help with projects.
With strong partnerships between AmeriCorps, local schools, and state-level host organizations such as NCAT, FoodCorps members are able to create meaningful change, often in communities where the need is great, such as schools where more than half of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.
Competition is fierce for FoodCorps positions. Current members were selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants. Those selected receive health insurance, student loan forbearance, training, mentorship, a $15,000 living allowance, and a $5,550 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.
In addition to NCAT, founding partners of FoodCorps are Occidental College, the National Farm to School Network, Slow Food USA, and Wicked Delicate, a documentary and advocacy firm founded by the creators of the film King Corn.
The FoodCorps Vision
We envision a nation of well-nourished children—children who know what healthy food is, how it grows and where it comes from, and who have access to it every day. These children, having grown up in a healthy food environment, will learn better, live longer, and liberate their generation from diet-related disease. We envision a bright future for our Service Members: emerging leaders who, having invested a year of public service creating healthy food environments for children, will go on to become farmers, chefs, educators, and public health leaders. These visionaries, armed with the skills to improve school food, will improve all food.
By Teena Thompson, FoodCorps Service Member in Rocky Boy, Montana
Teena Thompson and students at Rocky Boy School. Photo: Montana FoodCorps
As recently as 50 years ago, the prospect of having their own school district was a mere dream for the Chippewa-Cree nations on the Rocky Boy Reservation in northeast Montana. However, in 1970 the reservation's petition was finally approved and the school district now serves hundreds of students, mostly Native Americans living on or near the reservation.
Since its inception, Rocky Boy School District has taught reading, writing, and arithmetic and has also helped students understand the sacrifices, hardships, and dreams of our ancestors, to understand what it means to be Chippewa-Cree.
As a FoodCorps member, I work regularly with Rocky Boy School District on nutrition education and school gardens. By helping children plant, grow, and harvest their own food, learning through experience about the land our ancestors knew well, I believe I'm contributing in some small way to this larger mission.
As I walk through the halls of Rocky Boy Elementary, I am warmed by the bright smiles of students eagerly asking when they can begin building our school garden. "Ms. Teena!" A young second grader exclaimed just the other day, "Can we grow vegetables from our garden for our end of the year barbecue?"
Another student eagerly expressed his desire to plant an apple orchard around the garden so he and his family could eat all the apples they wanted and never have to buy one from the store again!
Their enthusiasm is contagious, and I, too, dream big. I dream that the school garden that we build this spring will be a lively hub for the whole community.
I dream that the garden will spark a lifetime of learning that can pass from student to student no matter what time of year. I dream that the food we grow will nourish their minds and fuel a passion that keeps them coming back season after season. And I dream that every child I serve has a dream, and the seeds and soil and sun to nurture it to life.
Local Beef is What's for Lunch
Katie Wheeler with the machine that made it possible to buy local beef for Kalispell school lunches. These purchases contribute to the local economy and bring fresh, healthy food to district youngsters. Photo: Montana FoodCorps
By Katie Wheeler, FoodCorps Service Member in Kalispell, Montana
Currently, there's a movement in Montana to connect K-12 schools with local cattle ranchers. The basic idea is that we live in Montana, a state known for its beef, so why not serve local beef in cafeterias across the state?
In the simplest terms, it makes sense to support local ranchers and get healthier beef into the stomachs of our students.
Here at School District #5 in Kalispell, we're approaching the one-year anniversary of serving local beef burgers in our cafeterias. We couldn't be happier.
In the fall of 2011, we looked into making the switch to local beef but couldn't find a meat processor with the necessary equipment. In March 2012, our Food Service Director asked that I again look into the possibility of switching to local beef.
The first call I made was to a family-owned state-inspected processing facility less than 10 miles away. I learned that they had just purchased a new machine that could form beef patties at the size we needed. With this simple change we could buy Montana beef for our schools.
We exchanged a handful of emails and phone calls and by the end of the next day, we scheduled a box of fresh local beef patties for delivery the following week! One year later we are purchasing 20 cases per week for our 11 schools.
One of the best parts of this story is that no monetary compromises were made. The processors didn't have to lower their price tag in order to hit our budget, and the schools didn't have to sacrifice money from a different part of their budget.
What did change is that we now serve exclusively Montana beef burgers that are never frozen. In fact, we're saving a penny on each patty by purchasing this product locally, which equates to approximately $765 of savings per school year. With this deal, District #5 is putting upwards of $37,000 in the local economy each year!
There are many hurdles to sourcing local food, but FoodCorps is working everyday to build the infrastructure and relationships to get this food into our schools. Local beef in Kalispell schools is a great example of our success. If we continue to put in the hard work, we'll keep money in our local economy and produce a healthy generation of young eaters.
NCAT Hosts FoodCorps in Montana, Iowa, and Arkansas
NCAT is the host site for FoodCorps service members in Montana, Iowa, and Arkansas. These young people have had terrific success in the schools and communities they serve. Over the summer, they're continuing to work in the gardens with students. You can follow their activities on their blogs and websites.
ATTRA Resources for Farm to School
The following ATTRA publications and resources include useful information for farm to school programs. These resources and many more can be found in the Local Food Systems and Direct Marketing sections of ATTRA's website, attra.ncat.org. Call 800-346-9140 for a printed copy. Prices vary. Many resources are free. SP* titles are also available in Spanish.
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New and Updated ATTRA Publications
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ATTRAnews is the newsletter of the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. The free newsletter is distributed throughout the United States to farmers, ranchers, Cooperative Extension agents, educators, and others interested in sustainable agriculture. ATTRA is funded through the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service and is a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a private, non-profit organization that since 1976 has helped people by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources.
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Karen Van Epen, Editor
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