Farm to school works indoors and out at DMPS

July 31, 2020

by Jen Ransom-Gach, MPH, RD, LD, Nutrition Grant Specialist, Des Moines Public Schools

FoodCorps service member works with three elementary students on a cooking activity.
FoodCorps service member Emma works with students on a cooking activity.

Des Moines Public Schools is committed to teaching students about where their food comes from through farm to school education and experiences.  

We are lucky that six of our elementary schools have both a garden space and a FoodCorps service member. Service members offer culturally relevant, in-depth lessons about where food comes from. Hands-on experience during school hours or at an after-school club are crucial for our students to make the connection to the food they eat.   

20 garden sites

DMPS has approximately 20 school garden sites district-wide. But it’s not necessary to have a garden space to promote farm to school. We are proud to have a food service team that supports farm to school efforts. They incorporate local foods into our menu and celebrate events such as Iowa Local Food Day in October. 

Three students pick strawberries in school garden bed.
Picking strawberries at the Moore Elementary School Garden.

Last year they incorporated local turkey and black beans into a delicious chili. They also dished up an apple crisp made with fruit from a school’s trees. The kids loved this and were excited to see something on their lunch trays that grew in their own school district!  

The cafeteria is also a convenient spot to sample other local foods. We have taste-tested roasted cauliflower and fruit salsa—a couple of student favorites!   

Farming indoors

Cracker with lettuce leaves, whiteboard in background.
Taste-testing lettuce grown in the tower garden.

Students can also do farm to school activities indoors. How about planting beans in a cup and journaling the growth progress? DMPS teachers have incorporated cooking experiences to tie in with different lessons across the curriculum. One school even has a hydroponics garden in the cafeteria. Students get to observe leafy vegetables growing—and then taste the final product.       

Des Moines has had successes with farm to school programming by thinking outside of the box. We teach farm to school both inside and outside of the classroom. Make your farm to school a success by starting small and engaging supportive district team members!   

Jen shared stories and photos from DMPS during the Iowa Farm to School and Early Care Virtual Conference in June 2020. See her presentation and other conference resources here. You can reach her at