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Service Learning Program Connects Children to the Food They Eat

Nifa Author
Lisa Jahns, National Program Leader/Biological Science Specialist

USDA NIFA’s Food and Agriculture Service Learning Program (FASLP) is facilitating connections between children and the food they eat through local agricultural producers, nutrition education and leadership.

The purpose of FASLP is to increase the knowledge of agricultural science and improve the nutritional health of children. The program’s goal is to increase the capacity for food, garden and nutrition education within host organizations or entities, such as school cafeterias and classrooms, while fostering higher levels of community engagement between farms and school systems. This is achieved by bringing together stakeholders from distinct parts of the food system. The initiative is part of a broader effort to not only increase access to school meals for low-income children but also to dramatically improve their quality.
 
FASLP is also focused on the development of leadership skills, knowledge and qualities that are necessary to prepare students for food and agricultural and related careers.
 
The past year was a tremendous year for FASLP, with funded projects illustrating impact nationwide.
 
Fort Valley State University’s Cooperative Extension Program, in Fort Valley, Georgia, in partnership with the Baldwin County School District, has improved access to healthy foods by expanding traditional gardening efforts and introducing two new farming practices: hydroponics and aquaponics. With three FoodCorps Service members and a full-time project manager, FASLP is providing needed in-classroom support to teachers incorporating school gardens into core curriculum standards. All seven schools in the district are growing produce for taste testing. Fruits and vegetables grown in the middle and high school gardens are served in each school’s cafeteria. Students have participated in over 200 taste tests and healthy food demonstrations. Lastly, approximately 1,000 pounds of food from the school gardens have been served as a part of the school meal program.
 
The Growing a Sustainable Farm to School System in Hawai‘i project of the Hawai‘i Public Health Institute aims to increase active and ongoing youth leadership and service in community-based farm-to-school programs and the broader statewide food systems movement in Hawai‘i. To accomplish this goal, the project convened an online Summer Institute over four weeks in June and July 2021, engaging a diverse array of stakeholders in developing the new Hawai‘i Farm to School Toolkit, which was successfully launched on October 1, 2021, in conjunction with Farm to School Month. Participants of the Summer Institute included 12 educators, nine high school and college students, one food producer, two school cafeteria managers, and one state legislator. The Hawai‘i Farm to School Toolkit is hosted online by the University of Hawai‘i and features four components: Youth Leadership and Service Learning, Harvest of the Month, School Garden and Food Safety, and Garden to Cafeteria. Additionally, a new English Composition 100 course was developed with a focus on farm-to-school and food systems. The course was hosted online during the fall 2021 semester by Kapiolani Community College. Sixty-seven high school students and six college students inquired about the course, and the maximum capacity of 20 students (all high school level, earning college credits) were enrolled in the course at no cost.
 
Growing Gardens in Portland, Oregon, taught culturally responsive food/garden-based education at 11 Title 1 schools, promoted local foods, and developed youth and adult leaders.  Since September 2021, the team of educators taught 2,339 K-5 students through 710 lessons in classrooms and gardens and led 130 after-school Garden Club sessions for 139 K-5 students. A total of 704 pounds of fresh organic vegetables was harvested from school gardens and distributed to families. The team distributed over 700 recipe kits for students and their families to cook and taste at home. Additionally, 29 high schoolers engaged in 52 after-school club sessions related to gardening, cooking and food systems. To replicate sustainable school garden programs more broadly, 41 people completed an online, six-week School Garden Coordinator Certificate Training.

Learn more about FASLP.

 

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