Quantcast
Food
School Within School / Facebook

Every Month Is Farm to School Month at This DC School

By Sarah Reinhardt

It's the end of October, which means National Farm to School Month is drawing to a close. But that doesn't matter to the students at School Within School in northeast Washington, DC—for them, it's always farm to school month.

Thanks to a farm to school tour hosted by DC Greens and the National Farm to School Network, I was lucky enough to visit a handful of the cutest (and smartest) gardeners in the district as they cooked up some ratatouille with their fall harvest. At School Within School, kids from three years old through fifth grade get to participate in FoodPrints, a gardening, cooking, and nutrition education program that integrates science, math and social studies into hands-on lessons about local food.


Sarah Reinhardt

You may have heard that farm-to-school programs support the economy (they generate an additional $0.60 to $2.16 in economic activity for every dollar schools spend on local foods), benefit public health (they help kids choose healthier options and eat more fruits and vegetables in school and at home), and foster community engagement (they fuel interest in local foods and offer opportunities to combat racial and economic inequities), but if you're like me, you may have learned most of this from behind a computer screen. It's another thing entirely to see farm-to-school programs in action, and to hear firsthand about what they could accomplish for our kids and communities with the right funding and support.

Walking in the footsteps of FoodPrints

Our tour, led by FRESHFARM director of education Jenn Mampara, kicked off with a quick stop at the chicken coops and then took us to the school garden, where the kids go for lessons once a week. The gardener plants summer crops in August, and when school starts, kids get to weed, water, harvest, replant and repeat through late spring. During the summer, the garden soil is kept healthy with a rotation of cover crops and beans, which are then dried and used in the fall.

Sarah Reinhardt

From the garden, we headed up to the teaching kitchen, where students were busy mixing together beans and onions ("It's watering my eyes!") from the garden. Produce from the garden is supplemented by local farmers' market produce to provide all the ingredients for the monthly cooking lesson that each FoodPrints student attends. The lesson on ratatouille moved fluidly from math ("What will happen if I add one cup of water?") to science ("Why do we need to soak the beans?") and back again, and students were engaged in active learning every step of the way.

Watching the educator walk the kids through their recipe, it struck me as wholly unsurprising that studies have shown that kids participating in farm to school programs display greater overall academic achievement, as well as social and emotional growth. Needless to say, kids who participate in farm to school programs also tend to show increased knowledge about gardening, agriculture and healthy eating.

"It's a meaningful experience for these kids to have in elementary school," Mampara said. "This will have a lasting impact on their understanding of good food and where it comes from."

And speaking of good food—the cooking doesn't stop in the teaching kitchen. Once a week, the school cafeteria borrows a recipe from FoodPrints, so that kids continue to connect their experience in the garden to the food on their plate. Kristen Rowe, the Nutrition and Compliance Specialist at DCP Public Schools (DCPS) said that when students are involved in the entire process, they're more willing to try foods like fruits and vegetables. "This initiative has created an appreciation and a connection between our students and nutritious food, and it's evident in our cafeterias on FoodPrint days!"

Farm to school funding is in high demand

But the success of farm to school programs like FoodPrints, which currently operates in 10 DC schools, can come at a price. Rob Jaber, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at DCPS, said he would like to expand the program to serve all DC students, and to do that, he needs resources. Since the "heat and serve" model became a staple of school food service, many schools lack the equipment and kitchen skills needed to start making food from scratch again.

Sarah Reinhardt

Jaber hopes that DCPS will soon be the recipient of a USDA Farm to School grant, one of the most sought-after funding sources for districts looking to adopt or expand food-based curriculum. The USDA Farm to School Grant Program, established in 2010, provides $5 million annually to fund training, planning, equipment, gardens, education, and other operational costs for farm to school programs nationwide. While that may seem like a lot, it meets only a fraction of the need demonstrated by schools. To date, 365 grants totaling $25 million have been awarded out of more than 1,600 applications requesting more than $120 million. This means that, on average, only one in five applications receives funding.

DC Central Kitchen, a community kitchen and job training program providing meals to 12 schools in the district, was awarded a grant back in 2012. Theresa Myers, DC Central Kitchen's Foundation and Government Relations Manager, explained how their food service capacity flourished with the grant. The organization received $100,000 to purchase new equipment and hire additional staff, and increased their processing and storage capacity by nearly a third as a result. DC Central Kitchen now purchases more than $350,000 in local foods from 30 regional farmers each year, which means that about half of every tray of food served in these schools is local.

What's happening in DC Public Schools is a microcosm, explained Maximilian Merrill, National Farm to School Network Policy Director. "This is a great model of what's going on across the country."

Sarah Reinhardt

A farm bill for farm to school

Not far from the garden, senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) are also thinking about how to support successful farm to school programs around the country. On September 6th, they introduced the Farm to School Act of 2017, which would increase annual funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program from $5 million to $15 million; make the grants more accessible to a broader range of childcare settings and populations, including early child care, summer food service, after school programs, and tribal schools; and help beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers sell more of their produce through farm to school programs.

While National Farm to School Month is almost over (until next year), the farm bill is just getting started. To show your support for farm to school programs, you can sign on to this letter of support written by the National Farm to School Network endorsing the Farm to School Act of 2017. (You can also sign on behalf of an organization.)

Increasing the funding available for programs like FoodPrints by threefold means triple the opportunities for education and engagement, triple the economic benefit, and triple the happy and healthy kids. If that doesn't water your eyes, I don't know what will.

Sarah Reinhardt is the food systems and health analyst for the Food & Environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Oceans

Acting Sub Lt.niwat Thumma / EyeEm / Getty Images

Plastic Straw Bans Have Unintended Consequences for People with Disabilities

The movement to ban plastic straws has gained major momentum this month, with Seattle's ban going into effect July 1 and companies like Starbucks, Hyatt and American Airlines all agreeing to phase the sucking devices out as well.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Emilie Chen / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Against All Odds, Mountain Gorilla Numbers Are on the Rise

By Jason Bittel

The news coming out of East Africa's Virunga Mountains these days would have made the late (and legendary) conservationist Dian Fossey very happy. According to the most recent census, the mountain gorillas introduced to the world in Gorillas in the Mist, Fossey's book and the film about her work, have grown their ranks from 480 animals in 2010 to 604 as of June 2016. Add another couple hundred apes living in scattered habitats to the south, and their population as a whole totals more than 1,000. Believe it or not, this makes the mountain gorilla subspecies the only great apes known to be increasing in number.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin arrive to attend a joint press conference after a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. YURI KADOBNOV / AFP / Getty Images

'Traitor' Trump 'Colludes' With Putin Over Oil

By Andy Rowell

A "traitor." "Putin's Poodle." "Open Treason." These are just some of the harsh headlines to greet Trump after yesterday's summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The papers back home were indignant with rage. The New York Times called Trump Putin's "lackey." The paper said that this was the summit that Putin had dreamed of for eighteen years, and Trump had willingly obliged.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Hero Images / Getty Images

How to Have Your Healthiest Summer Cookout Ever

By Isabel Walston, EWG Intern

Summer is in full swing, which means many Americans are planning cookouts complete with friends, family and fresh food. Whether you're having a casual kickback or a big bash, Environmental Working Group (EWG) has you covered with tips and tricks to keep your summer cookout fun-filled and healthy.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Doha, Qatar. Pixabay

Will Climate Change Make the Next World Cup Too Hot to Handle?

By Aimee Sison

After four weeks of fanfare, the 2018 World Cup has come to a close. France's victory in Sunday's final marked the end of a summer filled with thrilling victories, surprise defeats, national pride (and disappointment), penalty kick-induced panic and many other emotions associated with soccer.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Fairfax County / CC BY-ND 2.0

Protect Yourself From Disease-Carrying Ticks, Mosquitoes With EWG's 2018 Guide to Bug Repellents

A number of factors should come into play when you're choosing a bug repellent: what part of the country you live in, where you plan to travel, whether you're pregnant and whether you are planning to use the product on children. EWG's 2018 Guide to Bug Repellents can help you find the right product for yourself and your family.

No repellent works every place against every pest, so it is worth researching the diseases insects and ticks carry where you plan to spend time outside. The repellent you might choose for a backpacking trip in Colorado could be different from the one that might suffice for a picnic on an East Coast beach.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Bigbiggerboat / CC BY-SA 4.0

Sea Level Rise Could Sink Internet Infrastructure

Sea level rise may be coming for your Internet.

The first ever study to look at the impact of climate change on the Internet found that more than 4,000 miles of fiber optic cable in U.S. coastal regions will be underwater within 15 years and 1,000 traffic hubs will be surrounded, a University of Wisconsin (UW)—Madison press release reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Adidas shoes made with Parley ocean plastics. Adidas

Adidas Will Use Only Recycled Plastics by 2024

Adidas has long been committed to the fight against single-use plastics. Since 2015, it has partnered with Parley for the Oceans to respond to the plastic pollution crisis threatening marine life. In June, Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted announced the company had sold one million shoes made from plastic collected and recycled from the oceans.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!