Like many great ideas, FoodCorps, the new farm to school and school garden program took root in many different locations and many different minds simultaneously.
In 2007, Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney, the filmmakers behind the documentary "King Corn," were on a promotional tour across the country. "King Corn" examines the industrialization of corn production in the U.S.—from the elimination of family farms to the proliferation of high fructose corn syrup in everything from soft drinks to canned pickles. It's among several recent films that expose the unappetizing underbelly of our nation's modern food system, including "Super Size Me" and "Food, Inc."
After showing the movie, Ellis and Cheney hosted town hall discussions. A theme became apparent: the need to build more school gardens and grow farm to school programs.
Meanwhile, on a farm in Ohio, Debra Eschmeyer of the National Farm to School Network was identifying another related need. "Teachers and communities really needed the sweat equity, the human capital to make [farm to school and school garden] programs possible," says Eschmeyer. "Teachers are overburdened, so are food service staff and so are farmers. They all needed someone to be that connection, that liaison…to be the food system mover."
Soon after, Eschmeyer and Ellis connected the dots at an IATP Food & Community Fellow gathering. Both Ellis and Eshmeyer were both fellows in the 2008–09 and 2009–10 cohorts. Food & Community fellowships are supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Food & Community Program.
"When they asked us what kind of program we would like to work on in the next two years of the fellowship, I screamed out 'FarmerCorps!'" Eschmeyer recalls, "And Curt said, 'Yes, I do too!'"
After additional meetings at the Food & Community Networking Meeting and with the USDA, they refined the initial FarmerCorps concept into FoodCorps, a winning combination of school gardens, farm to school programs and AmeriCorps members. Essentially, FoodCorps places AmeriCorps members into school food systems for yearlong terms of public service. With its twin focus on school gardens and farm to school programs, FoodCorps aims to bring childhood obesity rates below five percent by 2030.
"The ultimate goal of the project is to increase the health and prosperity of vulnerable children, while investing in the next generation of farmers," explains Eschmeyer. "We're working to create a new wave of eaters and weeders in the food movement."
The timing has never been better. There is increasing public and political awareness of the connections between today's food system and tomorrow's health outcomes. Indeed, the First Lady's Let's Move! initiative highlighted school gardens, farm to school programs and community gardens as successful measures in the effort to reverse childhood obesity.
"Obesity [is] one of the biggest public health challenges our country has faced," concludes Eschmeyer. "One in three children ages 2-to-19 right now is overweight or obese. We need to end this trend and FoodCorps aims to help in this goal."
FoodCorps is launching in fall 2011, supported in part by the Kellogg Foundation's Food & Community Program, AmeriCorps and the Woodcock Foundation.
Check out their recruitment video: