AMES, Iowa – From school gardens and farm field trips to local food on school lunch trays, farm to school practices from early childhood through high school help children learn where food comes from and how to make healthier food choices. Food to school efforts also create new markets for local and regional farmers and food producers.
Iowa’s nearly 350 school districts serving 500,000 students can more easily expand efforts that connect children to locally sourced foods through a partnership between Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and a national network of farm to school resources and practitioners. The ISU Extension and Outreach Local Foods Program has been selected as the 2017-2019 National Farm to School Network Iowa Core Partner, providing new opportunities to expand school partnerships that support local food purchases, school gardens and food and agriculture education.
The National Farm to School Network is the leading voice for the U.S. farm to school and farm to early care and education movement, providing information, advocacy and networking for communities working to bring local food sourcing, school gardens and food and agriculture education into school systems and early care and education settings.
The National Farm to School Census, released in 2015, showed that 29 percent of Iowa school districts who responded to the survey are conducting some type of farm to school activity. Another 17 percent said they planned to begin to do so in the future. In 2015, the 98 districts purchasing local foods for their students spent more than $3.8 million on fruits, vegetables, milk and meat.
As the Iowa Core Partner, the Local Foods Program will build capacity and support for the expansion of farm to school and farm to early care and education efforts in Iowa, as well as serve as a liaison for information, resources, needs and opportunities with the National Farm to School Network. The program team will collaborate on these tasks with FoodCorps Iowa, the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, which are supporting partners of the Iowa network.
"Several years ago I was made aware of a sobering statistic – that the next generation of children could be the first to experience a shorter life expectancy than their parents," said Lynn Heuss, program coordinator for the Local Foods Program and facilitator of the partnership in Iowa. "I was absolutely NOT okay with that. I have three adult children and a wonderful grandson, and I hope they will all have long, healthy and happy lives. I know good food and a healthy lifestyle will play a huge part."
Farm to school enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools, early care and other education settings. Students gain access to healthy, local foods as well as educational experiences such as school gardens, cooking lessons and farm field trips. Farm to school empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities.
The National Farm to School Network has selected core and supporting partner organizations in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and U.S. Territories for a total of more than 200 network members nationwide.
PHOTO: Students who work in a school garden are more likely to eat the vegetables they grow. Photo courtesy of Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative.