Nicole Coston is a Registered Dietitian and farmer at Bearwallow Valley Farms in Hendersonville, NC, which she owns and operates with her husband, Brent, a fourth-generation farmer. The Costons run an innovative CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model, and also participate in community-building activities, like hosting farm field trips for schoolchildren and internships for college students. Although she’s not a traditional classroom educator herself, Nicole is committed to finding ways to connect children and families to local farms and nutritious food. In the interview below, she shares some of the ways their farm helps facilitate farm to school experiences in the community.
What are some recent examples of farm to school activities you have organized/participated in?
“Our farm organized a llama farm tour to Wellspring Farm. We chose to do a farm field trip due to the COVID shutdown. This gave some of our kids the opportunity to get out and enjoy the animals and fresh air during a time they had been doing 100% virtual learning. We are now in the planning process for our WCCA project to bring fresh fruits and vegetables and information regarding the Double SNAP program to WCCA families.”
Why do you think it’s important for children and families to be connected to local food and farms?
“As a Registered Dietitian, I know the power of teaching children about our food system. Children who are involved in growing and/or preparing their meals are more likely to consume a healthy diet and more likely to try new foods. As our food system has been somewhat removed from agriculture since the 1980’s, it is time to revive the standard of living of families gardening and raising small livestock as the norm.”
How does your role as a farmer and Registered Dietitian shape your approach to farm to school?
“We see education and food system reform as the backbone to our work. We want to work with children from early childhood through college to shape how they see their food. We also host 3 Dietetic Interns on our farm every year to help bridge the education gap from agriculture to nutrition.”
Can you share a favorite farm to school experience with us?
“With our current WCCA project, they have taken it upon themselves to build a small teaching garden at the Dana Elementary center that we will stock with lots of plants so the kids can watch the entire process from seed to satiety.”
Do you have any tips or advice to offer to other teachers and/or farmers who might want to organize a farm field trip or other F2S experience?
“Reach out to ASAP! They have everything you need.”