19 Unique and innovative farm-to-school programmes

19 Unique and innovative farm-to-school programmes

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Danielle Nierenberg
October is national Farm-to-School Month in the United States. It’s a time to celebrate the connections between schools, farmers, and locally and regionally produced foods. Each year, millions of students, farmers, and communities across North America celebrate the movement that’s improving child nutrition, supporting local farmers and economies, and increasing food and nutrition education.Farm-to-school programs encourage schools to buy farm-fresh foods from their local community to serve in the cafeteria and feature educational activities in the classroom. Students gain access to healthy, nutritious food as well as educational opportunities such as farm field trips, garden-based learning, cooking lessons, and recycling programs. The farm-to-school approach helps children and families understand where their food comes from and how their food choices can impact their health, the environment, and their community. Specific benefits for children, according to the U.S. National Farm to School Network, include an increased knowledge and awareness about gardening, agriculture, healthy eating, local foods and seasonality, greater fruit and vegetable consumption both at school and at home, and enhanced overall academic achievement.
Farm-to-school programs also provide benefits to local and regional farmers and the broader community. They serve as an additional financial opportunity for farmers, fishers, ranchers, food processors, and food manufacturers, spurring economic activity and job creation within the community and the state. These programs also lessen the schools’ environmental impact by reducing student food waste and food miles. Across the globe, farm-to-school programs are fostering connections between students, teachers, parents, farmers, and policymakers in activities that support health, nutrition, agriculture, and local economies.
Food Tank is celebrating the farm-to-school month by featuring 19 inspiring and innovative farm-to-school programs from around the world. These programs are making a demonstrated difference in child health, school attendance rates, food security, and farmer livelihoods in many communities.
Africa
1. Ghana School Feeding Programme, Ghana
Launched in 10 pilot schools by the former Ghanaian government in 2005, the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GFSP) has grown to feed more than 1.4 million children across 4,500 schools in Ghana. The program has helped increase school attendance, domestic food production, farm and household incomes, and food security in many communities. Active across all 170 districts, the GSFP is helping to reduce child hunger in some of Ghana’s most isolated communities.
2. Purchase from Africans for Africa Program, multiple countries
The Purchase from Africans for Africa Program (PAA) links smallholder farmers with local schools in five countries—Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, and Senegal. Its pilot phase resulted in more than 1,000 metric tons of locally procured food serving 128,456 pupils in 420 schools. Family farmers’ productivity rates have increased by more than 100 percent, with schools feeding activities guaranteeing a market for an average of 40 percent of the food they produce. PAA is a partnership between the Government of Brazil, the Government of the United Kingdom, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Food Program’s Purchase for Progress initiative.
Europe
3. Food for Life, England
A collaboration between food activist Jeanette Orrey, the U.K. Soil Association, and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Food For Life works to change food culture in nurseries, schools, hospitals, and care homes. Its “whole setting approach” works to provide nutritious, sustainably produced food, promote healthy food behaviours, and educate and engage pupils, patients, residents, and their families. The whole-school approach ensures that lessons about food and healthy eating are reflected and reinforced in the daily life of the school. Students, teachers, and organizers grow their own food, organize trips to farms, source food from local producers, set up school farmers’ markets, hold community food events, and serve freshly prepared meals made from scratch at school lunchtimes.
4. Farming and Countryside Education, England and Wales
Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) works across England and Wales to mobilize farmers and farming businesses to engage with classroom education. FACE provides training and resources to farmers to equip them with the knowledge and confidence to deliver on-farm and in-classroom education to inspire children. FACE also has a range of classroom resources across all key stages and subjects to help teachers build curriculum-based lessons about food, farming, and the countryside. Their online portal Countryside Classroom provides teachers with access to a database of learning resources, places to visit, and food and farming-related organizations.
5. Model Vihti, Finland
Model Vihti is a development project in Vihti, Finland, seeking to create sustainable, nature-based learning environments. The model involves garden-based learning where children plan the next season, grow seedlings indoors, prepare the soil, and plant, sow, and harvest edible crops. It also includes farm visits where pupils and teachers are assigned everyday tasks of a farmer, from cleaning horse stables to stacking firewood. Children also learn in nearby forests about forestry, water systems, and climate change, as well as basic survival skills such as first aid and making a safe fire in the forest. The three aspects of the program are designed to help children understand the interconnected natural and physical processes involved in food production.
6. Agri Aware, Ireland
Agri Aware provides educational and public awareness initiatives for both farming and non-farming communities across Ireland. One initiative is the Mobile Farm, an outdoor classroom that safely and humanely transports animals to educate children and adults via a hands-on learning experience. The Mobile Farm is accompanied by trained farmers who teach students about each animal, including facts about their natural habitat and their role in food production. In conjunction with the Dublin Zoo, Agri Aware also established Family Farm, an educational, interactive acre that represents modern Irish farm life. Each year, up to 1 million visitors learn about farm animals and Ireland’s agricultural history through the farmyard and its heritage exhibition.
7. School Meals Program, Italy
Since 2001, the city of Rome has gradually made its School Meals Program more sustainable, innovative, and culturally appropriate. Today, more than 144,000 meals are served daily in Rome across 550 nurseries, primary schools, and secondary schools; 92 percent of the meals are made from scratch on site, and 69 percent of them include organic food. Rome’s school meal program has a number of additional criteria such as a “guaranteed freshness” standard for fruit and vegetables—with no more than three days between harvest and intake—and a seasonal focus for designing recipes and menu planning. Children use ceramic and stainless steel tableware and all single-use items, such as napkins, must be recyclable and biodegradable.
North America
8. Farm to Cafeteria Canada, Canada
Farm to Cafeteria Canada (F2CC) leads the Canadian farm-to-school movement, working with partners to influence policy to bring local, healthy, and sustainable foods into all public institutions. In 2016, 50 schools were delivered grants across British Columbia and Ontario, enabling approximately 20,000 students with opportunities to grow, harvest, cook, preserve, and eat healthy, local foods. F2CC’s Nourishing School Communities program has resulted in more than 250 policy and behavioural changes at the local and provincial levels, transforming school and policy environments. These include the development of policies or guidelines to facilitate food safety, food preparation, local food procurement and purchasing, and student involvement in menu planning, as well as field trips to local farms and food literacy activities.
9. Fresh Roots, Canada
Fresh Roots and the Vancouver School Board have partnered to develop outdoor, hands-on community learning classrooms called Schoolyard Market Gardens. The first of their kind in Canada, Schoolyard Market Gardens are a place of interaction for people of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures to explore food production, cooking, and eating. Produce grown in the gardens are distributed through a weekly Salad Box program as well as served in school cafeterias and local restaurants. Fresh Roots also hosts annual all-staff professional development days to help teachers learn how to use the garden as an outdoor classroom and achieve their specific curriculum objectives outside.
10. Ecotrust, United States
Ecotrust is a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon, promoting projects that advance social equity, economic opportunity, and environmental well-being. In their farm-to-school work, Ecotrust focuses on low-income schools and preschools to ensure the most vulnerable children have access to fresh, healthy food. Ecotrust has launched how-to guides and resources, including the Farm to School Showcase Toolkit, a guide for connecting local food suppliers with school food buyers, and oregonfarmtoschool.org, a living guide to current information, studies, and data on farm-to-school outcomes in the state. Their online platform FoodHub connects more than 6,000 farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and specialty producers with wholesale food buyers in their region.
11. National Farm to School Network, United States
The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) provides vision, leadership, and support at the state, regional, and national levels to connect and expand the farm-to-school movement across the United States. More than 15,000 farm-to-school practitioners and supporters have joined the network and support NFSN by advocating for supportive policies, volunteering in their communities, and fostering connections and partnerships. Every year, NFSN establishes new initiatives and partnerships, develops new resources, toolkits, and reports, pushes for and achieves policy changes, and holds hundreds of presentations and events. Online, NFSN provides an extensive range of resources covering a range of topics and settings, opportunities to advocate for supportive policies, and information on establishing a farm-to-school program.
12. Seven Generations Ahead, United States
Seven Generations Ahead (SGA) works with the local government, community, and private sectors over a broad range of sustainability topic areas, including healthy community development, local food procurement, healthy eating, and sustainability education, among others. With their Fresh From the Farm Program (FFF), SGA directly implements healthy eating curriculum modules in limited-resource schools. FFF educators support the planning, design, and implementation of organic school gardens that introduce children to varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables, their cultivation methods, and nutritional value. Students can also engage in local organic farm tours, chef cooking demonstrations, and school-based composting that demonstrates the natural cycle of growing and harvesting food, preparing and eating food, and converting waste into fertilizer for new food.
13. The Kitchen Community, United States
Established in 2011 by Hugo Matheson and Kimbal Musk, The Kitchen Community (TKC) was founded on the belief that every child should have the opportunity to play, learn, and grow in healthy communities. To create healthier environments in underserved schools, TKC builds Learning Gardens, thriving vegetable gardens, and hands-on outdoor classrooms seeking to increase academic engagement and achievement, strengthen the bond between schools and their communities, and increase kids’ knowledge of and preference for fresh fruits and vegetables. TKC is the largest school garden organization in North America, impacting 250,000 kids across six major metropolitan regions with nearly 450 outdoor Learning Garden classrooms in schools nationwide.
14. Vermont Feed, United States
Vermont Feed (VT Feed) provide training, mentoring, and technical assistance to schools, food service staff, farmers, and nonprofit organizations working to build strong farm-to-school programs. VT Feed initiates projects that advocate for stronger food, farm, and nutrition policy, and develop innovative tools and evidence-based best practices for farm-to-school programs. Current projects include Jr Iron Chef TV, a statewide culinary competition for students to create healthy, local dishes, and the Farmer Correspondence Program, pairing farmers with classrooms based on students’ interests and grade levels. VT Feed also coordinates the Vermont Farm to School Network to facilitate local connections, foster local engagement, and work to increase farm-to-school initiatives in the state.
South America
15. National School Feeding Programme, Brazil
Brazil’s National School Feeding Programme has been in operation since the 1950s but has transformed and expanded in recent decades. In 2009, the Brazilian government made it a legal requirement to source at least 30 percent of school meal produce from rural, family farms, and access to school meals has become a universal right under Brazilian law. The program is considered one of the largest and most comprehensive school nutrition programs in the world, supplying approximately 43 million pupils with one or more servings of healthy, culturally appropriate food per day in almost 250,000 schools across the country. According to the FAO, the program is improving the health of millions of young people, reducing school absenteeism, and guaranteeing a market for 120,000 family farmers across Brazil.
16. Sustainable Schools Program, multiple countries
Following the success of Brazil’s school feeding program, the FAO has partnered with the Brazilian government to replicate and adapt the program to 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Called the Sustainable Schools Program, it involves the adoption of healthy and adequate school meals, the implementation of educational school gardens, infrastructure improvements made to kitchens, dining halls, and storage rooms, and the direct purchase of local family farming products. For each country, a nutritional plan is developed based on students’ nutritional status, socioeconomic situation, and the knowledge and practices of household food consumption. Food is purchased from local family farmers to ensure dietary diversity and respect for cultural food preferences while promoting local economic development.
Oceania
17. Australian Organic Schools, Australia
Australian Organic (formerly Biological Farmers of Australia) is the largest organic industry body in Australia. Their Organic Schools program helps schools start and maintain an organic school garden with seven educational units of work, including garden planning, soil health, planting, mulching, watering, and harvesting. Another three units are based on good nutrition, the benefits of consuming organic produce, and the process of becoming a certified organic producer. The program provides background information, lesson plans, activity sheets, case studies, and extra resources for use in primary and middle years.
18. Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, Australia
The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, initiated by Australian celebrity chef, restaurateur, and food writer Stephanie Alexander, provides Pleasurable Food Education for primary school children. The program aims to provide a pleasurable learning experience that will positively influence children’s food choices, attitudes towards environmental sustainability, and working relationships with other children and adults. Based on the idea that fun is integral to learning, Pleasurable Food Education encourages critical thinking, teamwork, and increased levels of observation among students.
19. Garden to Table, New Zealand
The Garden to Table program aims to build skills through practical hands-on child-centric classes—not only growing and cooking skills but also building awareness of individual and collective responsibility for the environment, healthy eating, and community connectedness. In partnership with T&G (formerly Turners & Growers), Garden to Table have launched the Young Gardener Awards recognizing the most passionate young gardeners in the Garden to Table program. Winners will receive vouchers to buy a glass house or garden bed, and all the necessary tools and gardening resources to start their own productive home garden. The Garden to Table program began in 2010 with just three schools in Auckland and has now grown to a nationwide program with more than 60 participating schools.
(Danielle Nierenberg is the President, Food Tank<danielle@foodtank.com>)

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