October is National Farm to School Month, a time to celebrate connections between schools, local farmers, and food. Farm to School Month is an opportunity to emphasize the importance of farm to school programs as a way to improve child nutrition, support local economies, and educate children about the origins of food.
According to the USDA’s 2015 Farm to School Census, 42 percent of districts surveyed said they participate in farm to school activities. That means 5,254 districts with 42,587 schools are offering locally-grown food in their cafeterias, holding taste-testing demos for fresh foods, taking their students on field trips to farms, starting school gardens and more. As a result, 23.6 million students are developing healthy eating habits and connecting with where their food comes from.
Farm to School programs don’t just expose children to healthy food options – they also boost local economies and support farmers. According to the USDA census data, schools purchased nearly $790 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors, and manufacturers in the 2013-2014 school year, and this number is growing each year.
Arizona has diverse landscapes, cultures, and agricultural products. Farm to school programs across the state help students understand, appreciate, and interact with all of these important factors influencing the food they eat.
FoodCorps, for example, is an organization that connects kids to healthy foods in schools. They teach cooking and gardening classes, explore ways to ensure students have healthy options in the cafeteria, and advocate for a schoolwide culture of health. In Arizona, FoodCorp assists at Cibecue Community Schools, Tuba City Health Care Corporation, Moenkopi Developers Corporation, Prescott Farmers Market, Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, The STAR School, and the Native American Advancement Foundation.
Many schools across the state also participate in school garden programs. Explore Good Food Finder AZ’s comprehensive list to find a school garden near you. Having a garden at school benefits students by giving them an opportunity to get their hands dirty and learn a wide array of disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, math, language arts and nutrition.
With all of the incredible benefits and opportunities these programs offer, there’s no question that Farm to School Month is worth celebrating, so help us spread the word!
If you’re a teacher, consider planning nutrition education activities, such as “Harvest of the Month” activity featuring a local food product that is in season. Feeling more adventurous? Organize a farm tour or trip to the local farmers market to provide a hands on experience that will educate and leave everyone hungry for a locally-grown, healthy snack.
If you’re a parent and your child’s school doesn’t have a farm to school program, consider visiting your local farmers market, buying seasonal and unusual products that you haven’t tried before, and even talking to farmers to educate your kids on where their food comes from.
As a local farmer or food producer, you can celebrate National Farm to School Month by reaching out to schools in your area and offering to come to a classroom during October, or even hosting a visit to your farm. You can also promote National Farm to School Month on your farm or at your farmers market booth with posters, activities, and other materials.
And finally, join the #FarmToSchool conversation all month long for #F2SMonth. Stay tuned to our blog, Facebook, and Twitter for stories, insights and more as we celebrate these wonderful programs and efforts across our state.