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school gardens

Getting a School Garden Blooming

School gardens are gaining popularity across the country. In Texas, nearly 3,000 schools participate in farm to school activities. Some of these schools work with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Learn, Grow, Eat, and Go program. Jeff Raska, a school garden specialist with the AgriLife Extension, works with numerous programs and offers practical advice to schools establishing a school garden. Here, he discusses the importance of a strong school garden committee.

By Jeff Raska, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Dallas County Texas

A school vegetable garden can be a wonderful outdoor classroom for studying natural science. Having worked with school gardens on and off for more than 25 years, I have seen many great school garden programs bloom, and then fade as time passes and school priorities change. For the last seven years, I’ve had the privilege of working with school gardens as a 4-H Club program assistant for Dallas County and have had the benefit of seeing a wide range of needs and challenges that schools face when trying to start a garden. However, the most successful programs have a few important things in place.

Grants, Gardens and Green Beans: Charlottesville's Growing Farm to School Program

In celebration of Virginia Farm to School Week, I recently visited Charlottesville Public Schools to learn about the district’s garden and Harvest of the Month efforts. Here’s a snapshot of what I observed that day.

We push a cart piled high with plates of green beans down the hallway stopping at each classroom. Noses press against the glass in the doors and teachers urge students to sit down, as the door cracks open to excited chatter. The green beans are passed off and we are on to the next classroom, getting to every class in just under 30 minutes. It’s only 9:30 in the morning on October 6 at Burnley-Moran Elementary School and the Harvest of the Month taste test is off to a great start!

Food Hub, Food Truck and Food Education: Northern Colorado School District Takes Farm to School to the Next Level

A bin of acorn squash sits on a pallet at the Weld County School District 6 central kitchen, right next to a bin of yellow onions and a 1,000 pound tote of russet potatoes – all locally-grown. A walk through the facility is enough to convince anyone that Weld County School District 6 is committed to scratch-cooked, locally-grown food for its 22,000 students at 35 schools.  In this rural Colorado school district, where over 40 languages are spoken at home and 66 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price meals, fresh, tasty food is the norm – even down to the green chili, a southwestern favorite roasted in-house, using three varieties of local peppers.

About a quarter of the central kitchen is dedicated to processing fresh fruits and vegetables.  Mushrooms are sliced, carrots are shredded and onions are diced. With funding from a USDA Farm to School Grant in 2013, this food hub portion of the kitchen was furnished with tables, wash stations and equipment to process local food for Weld County’s own meals and for other districts in the area.

Colorado Proud School Meal Day Features Local Yak, Peaches, Potatoes and More!

From locally-raised yak burgers to school garden-grown zucchini, Colorado schools kicked off the school year with farm to school gusto! On September 14, an estimated 550 schools reaching 160,700 students celebrated Colorado Proud School Meal Day by featuring fresh, locally-grown food in their school meals. The annual event is organized by Colorado Proud, a program to promote local foods through the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Students from the public Denver Green School celebrated with special guests including Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Katie Wilson and Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock. Guests joined students for a delicious school lunch featuring homegrown zucchini, onions, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. Students voiced their excitement for the fresh food, and guests headed outside to the school farm where the produce was grown.

State Agencies are Bringing the Farm to School!

From organizing statewide conferences, to training farmers and child nutrition professionals, to developing farm to school curricula and resources, state agencies are playing a big role in bringing the farm to school. This fact sheet describes effective strategies state agencies are using to help community food systems take root. Here’s a sampling of three ways state agencies are making an impact.

National Farm to School Month Highlights Benefits to America's Students and Communities

It’s National Farm to School Month and USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems is here to help…and not just in October!  All year long, we offer research, grants, training and technical assistance to help connect child nutrition programs with local foods.  Here’s why.

Farm to school helps form healthy habits. By incorporating local foods, farm to school programs help school meal programs fulfill the updated nutrition standards with appealing and diverse offerings.  And the results are impressive.  The recent 2015 USDA Farm to School Census shows farm to school programs now exist in every state in the nation and in every type of school district – large and small, rural and urban alike. With that in mind, we plan to build on this momentum!

Sowing Gardens, and Growing Kids Who Love Them

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, guest blog writer Katie Rainwater, also a FoodCorps Service Member, shares her remarkable experience at Cherokee Central Schools, a 2014 USDA Farm to School Grantee.

Guest blog by Katie Rainwater, FoodCorps

Imagine this: A bright, sunny fall day in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. Fresh, organic greens, lovingly raised in Cherokee Central Schools’ garden, and harvested that same day. Now add 22 elementary students proudly waving signs and banners they decorated the day before, boasting the beauty of their garden bounty, and advertising their Fall Greens Sale. If you ever bought into the idea that “kids don’t like vegetables,” our elementary schoolers could have changed your mind that day. Stationed in front of the school during after-school pick-up time, every car and person within reach received a glowing description of the wondrous greens the students helped grow, the most popular being a local native variety called Creasy Greens. Bedecked in fruit and vegetable costumes, these kids were convincing adults that they should eat their veggies! As a genuine testament to their enthusiasm and love for their harvest, they sold almost all of the 321 pounds of greens harvested that day.

During National Farm to School Month, USDA Celebrates Grantees' Accomplishments and a New Office

Along with brilliantly colored hard squash, crisp apples, and hearty greens, October ushers in National Farm to School Month, a time to raise awareness about and celebrate the impact of farm to school programs on children, producers, and communities. Since 2012, I have directed USDA’s Farm to School Program, guiding the work of a small but enthusiastic team at the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Each October, we have more to celebrate: more USDA funds awarded to schools, agencies, and organizations to advance these programs; more money ending up in the pockets of local producers; more school gardens in which students can learn and grow; and more healthful school meals that feature local foods.

A new report, announced by Agriculture Secretary Vilsack earlier this month, helps quantify our celebration. An analysis of grant-making over the last three years reveals that USDA has awarded $15.1 million through 221 grants in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Fifty percent of funded projects included expanding healthy menu options offered in the cafeteria; 46 percent included training for food service staff about menu planning, meal preparation, and cooking with local and regional foods; and 65 percent included nutrition education activities. These funds have helped 12,300 schools improve nutritious meal options made with local ingredients for 6.9 million students, while expanding market opportunities for family farmers and ranchers in their communities.

Connecting Schoolchildren to Healthy Food Choices

Last month, schools all across the nation celebrated National School Lunch Week, honoring the importance of healthy meals to education.  I was able to join in one of these celebrations right here in the national Capital area, and the great things I saw at Takoma Park (Md.) Middle School are still fresh in my mind.

I was already aware of the commitment that the Division of Nutrition and Food Services of Montgomery County Public Schools has made to serving healthy meals, as well some of the important strides they have taken across this large district.  But on this trip, I wanted to see first-hand how Takoma Park Principal Alicia Teeny and her teaching staff connect children in the classroom to healthy food choices.

Secretary's Column: Serving Up Healthy Food and a Healthier Next Generation

This article was originally posted on ServiceNation.org. Read the original here.

As Secretary of Agriculture, I take USDA’s nickname of the “People’s Department”—first coined by President Abraham Lincoln—to heart. Over the past five years, we have worked hard to build upon our tradition of service to the American people, supporting both the farmers and ranchers who grow our food and giving American families confidence that the food they buy at the grocery store is safe, healthy and affordable.

We could not accomplish our mission without the contributions of partner organizations and individual volunteers across the country. While our work with volunteers is by no means exclusive to nutrition and nutrition education, volunteers act as our boots on the ground in classrooms and communities to teach kids about where food comes from and why the diet and lifestyle choices they make today matter for their future. Volunteers, along with parents, teachers, school administrators, and school food service professionals, are absolutely critical to our efforts to improve childhood nutrition and help this generation of youngsters grow up healthy and strong.