(2012-2013) ASAP’s Farm to School to Community Project focused on multiple intervention points to positively impact food environments, promote healthy food relationships for children, and build a stronger, more transparent local food system. This two year project, funded through Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, begun with a focus on Farm to School in three communities in year one and expanded to include restaurants, groceries, Head Start centers, hospitals and colleges in year two. Building on community strengths and connections, this project was designed to increase access to fresh local produce and create experiences and relationships that encourage children to eat it, while also rebuilding the local food system.
Starting at School
Focal points of the community, schools provide the means to draw in broad participation and achieve community-wide impacts. Farm to School is a place-based strategy that benefits children’s health and education while simultaneously providing market opportunities for local farms and economic benefits for communities. While Farm to School is sometimes narrowly defined as: “local food served in school cafeterias,” ASAP’s holistic definition also includes hands-on experiential education components – school gardens, farm field trips, and local food cooking classes. Focusing on local food-and farm-based instruction and activities builds connections between children, teachers, cafeteria workers, parents, Child Nutrition Directors, chefs, farmers, community members and the region’s agriculture. Schools are an important place to start in creating healthy food environments because of their potential to provide children with greater access to locally grown food, model healthy eating behaviors and offer children positive healthy food experiences.
The Team Approach
Making Farm to School grants available to three elementary schools in Western North Carolina helped identify communities that are motivated to make positive change. Applying for these grants required the involvement not only of schools, but a “Farm to School Team” consisting of teachers, administration, food service, parents, farmers, local agencies, and community members. Through this process we selected Pinnacle Elementary (Rutherford County), Freedom Trail Elementary (Avery County) and Bald Creek Elementary (Yancey County), all schools that have the support to sustain a Farm to School program, as well as communities that are committed to a holistic approach to improving food environments for children. In addition to funding for educational supplies and materials, awards also included training and technical assistance, promotional materials, and other resources.
Connecting the Dots
ASAP’s role in the Farm to School to Community project focused on making connections and building on community strengths. Each school selected for this project defined their own project for implementing Farm to School, and each included a plan for procurement, promotion and education. With the support of their Farm to School team, each school has committed to:
- Promoting positive food environments at schools and in the community, including featuring local items on the school menu, displaying promotional materials, and participating in activities such as meet the farmer events, taste tests, etc.
- Sharing their experience though reporting and participation in a regional learning community.
- Integrating educational components of Farm to School into the standard course of study and classroom activities. This includes implementing at least two Farm to School lessons per month, participate in at least one farm field trip per year, and establish or revitalize a school vegetable garden.
- Working to increase purchases from local sources (directly from a farmer, through a distributor, etc.) using proper procurement practices, striving to feature at least two locally grown fruits or vegetables each month. One of the greatest challenges to Farm to School programs is often local procurement. While some schools may have easy access to local product through established distributors, ASAP is working with Child Nutrition Directors to implement creative strategies for sourcing local products in rural areas that are limited by barriers such as distribution and lack of access to farms meeting purchasing requirements.
ASAP’s role in this project was to work with these school to provide them with the training, technical assistance, and resources to successfully implement their proposed Farm to School projects and expand their efforts into the broader community. Enacting positive change at the school level not only works within an existing system that has impact upon children’s access to and attitudes about fresh healthy food, but it also builds the community awareness, support, and involvement that is needed for larger system change.