Students, Farmers Benefit from Adding Local Food to School Menu, Curriculum

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Schools and preschools across the country are celebrating the third annual National Farm to School Month throughout October. Farm to school practices seek to improve the health of school food and create new economic opportunities for local farmers.

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Healthy kids are better learners, so it is no surprise that teachers who engaged in farm to school report improvements in student attention and classroom behaviors.

Throughout October, schools and preschools across the country will be celebrating the third annual National Farm to School Month, an event that recognizes the significant role that farm to school can play in creating markets for local farmers and increasing children’s consumption of healthy foods.

Farm to school is the practice of sourcing local food for schools or preschools and providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, such as school gardens, farm field trips and cooking lessons. Because farm to school is put into practice at the community level, it varies greatly from one location to the next. According to Anupama Joshi, executive director of the National Farm to School Network, most schools start small.

“While many schools would love to eventually source most of their cafeteria menu locally or plant large school gardens, even small changes can have a huge impact,” Joshi said. “Farm to School Month is a great opportunity to feature a local product in your cafeteria for the first time, even if it is just a ‘taste test’ or a sample. Planting a container garden or inviting a farmer or chef to visit your classroom are also great activities that don’t require a lot of resources.”

Research shows that education programs are a key component of successful farm to school implementation because they offer students a point of reference for the new foods they see on their lunch tray: Grow a radish, eat a radish. Or, to use another example, students who become pen pals with a local dairy farmer might be more willing to give Greek yogurt a try.

The benefits can work both ways. Hands-on experience with food and agriculture in the classroom can help a child learn to improve his or her diet, and a better diet can improve performance in the classroom.

“Healthy kids are better learners, so it is no surprise that teachers who engaged in farm to school report improvements in student attention and classroom behaviors,” Joshi said. “Students working in school gardens and outdoor green spaces demonstrate better social skills, self-esteem and work ethics.”

Farmers are the other important beneficiaries of farm to school. With hundreds if not thousands of mouths to feed, schools are not only the biggest food purchaser in many communities, they are also in a unique position to make use of products that are deemed less desirable by restaurants and wholesalers because of their size, like small potatoes, tiny apples and chicken drumsticks. These “small” gains can make a big difference in a farm’s overall financial viability.

Congress recognized the myriad benefits of farm to school by approving a resolution officially designating October as National Farm to School Month in 2010. Schools, farms and other organizations across the country will celebrate Farm to School Month this year by hosting harvest festivals, garden events, and special classroom activities as well as featuring local foods in their cafeterias. Farm field trips and even afterschool activities, like community cooking classes, are also popular ways to celebrate Farm to School Month.

For the third year in a row, the National Farm to School Network has organized the celebration of Farm to School Month by offering resources and information on their website, The National Farm to School Network is also collecting Farm to School Month stories through a contest called Farm to School Counts. To participate, anyone organizing a farm to school event or activity is encouraged to fill out a short survey on Participants will be entered in a drawing for one of several prizes including free registration to the 7th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference: Powering Up, which will be held in Austin, Texas in April 2014.

About the National Farm to School Network
The National Farm to School Network (NFSN), founded in 2007, seeks to create strong and just local food systems that ensure the health of children, farms, the environment, the economy and communities. NFSN provides vision, leadership and support to connect and strengthen the farm to school movement, which includes tens-of-thousands of schools in all 50 states.

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Chelsey Simpson
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