Fifty states now boast Farm to School programs, giving a green “thumb’s up” to the effort that connects schools to local farms and farmers. The National Farm to School Network, a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Food & Community grantee, is the lead organization in the United States providing leadership, marketing and implementation support to interested school districts and states.
So what is Farm to School and why have more than 9,000 schools in all fifty states launched programs?
Farm to School is an all-encompassing term for a wide range of activities undertaken by school districts for a range of benefits. Largely these benefits come through connecting students and schools to farmers in their geographic region. How does that benefit children’s health? When Farm to School programs are in force, it’s likely there are more fresh, high quality, unprocessed school meals served, children are learning about food, nutrition and agriculture, and nearby small-scale agriculture is receiving an economic boost.
Farm to School also relies on experiential learning—getting kids out of the classroom and onto the farm, and into the garden or kitchen. Food is then used as a tool for learning about mathematics or science or English.
“What we are doing at the National Farm to School Network is coordinating efforts nationally, regionally and statewide,” says Anupama Joshi, director of the National Farm to School Network, based at the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College. Joshi adds that the Network “links all those efforts up to make sure that anyone interested in Farm to School has the resources available to do it,” and is able to avail themselves of the Network’s expertise.
Farm to School began to gather steam more than a decade ago, yet in the last year it’s really come into vogue. Why now? Joshi says that before the Network began in 2007 “there was no coordinated mechanism to document efforts, do case studies, or come up with ‘how-to’ toolkits for specific stakeholders.” The Network has played a crucial coordination role in breaking down barriers to entry: from how a school district can involve farmers to how a farmer can talk to a food service director, among many other examples.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s ardent support of school gardens, the White House Organic Garden and the launch of the Let’s Move! initiative to reverse childhood obesity add to the solid foundation the Network has built over the past three years.
“With Let’s Move! and promoting local foods and making sure kids are involved with it, that is the message that I think the country is getting and much needs,” adds Joshi.
Strengthening children and communities’ knowledge about, and attitudes toward, agriculture, food, nutrition and the environment is something that will serve to strengthen communities writ large.
“The momentum for Farm to School is clearly on the rise,” says Linda Jo Doctor, a program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
With the continued coordinating efforts of the National Farm to School Network and the many levels of support they offer—from a clickable map on their website to in-person technical assistance to interested schools—the nation can expect to see Farm to School on the move for years to come.
Learn more about the National Farm to School Network at http://www.farmtoschool.org/
See a slideshow from the Farm to Cafeteria conference in Detroit. Images were submitted from around the country and represent the nation’s growing farm to school movement.