From Danielle Nierenberg
This October, Food Tank is celebrating national Farm-to-School Month in the United States. In the U.S. alone, over 42,000 schools are changing their communities with farm-to-school programs, impacting the lives of over 23 million students. And schools and organizations across the world—from Australia to Zambia—are redesigning food education with on-site gardens, educational farms, and nutritious meals. Bringing locally sourced and fresh food closer to students can help equip them for a healthy and environmentally-friendly future. According to the National Farm to School Network, every dollar invested in farm-to-school activities reduces food waste at school, increases a child’s fruit and vegetable consumption by more than 40 percent, and even improves test scores. Beyond the school, food education investments multiply, increasing local economic activity and engaging parents—and communities—in healthier eating habits at home.
Food Tank is spotlighting these 30 organizations joining farmers, nutritionists, policymakers, and educators around innovative food education: Agri Aware, Australian Organic Schools, Chengelo School, Dairy NZ, Developing Innovations in School Cultivation, Ecotrust, Farm to Cafeteria Canada, Farm to School Africa, Farm to School, Food Connects, Food Corps, Food for Life, Fresh Roots, Gallatin Valley Farm to School, Garden to Table, Ghana School Feeding Programme, Green School, Linking Environment and Farming Education, Model Vihti, National Farm to School Network, National School Feeding Programme, Permaculture Institute of Asia, Purchase from Africans for Africa Program, School Meals Program, Seven Generations Ahead, Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, Strengthening School Feeding Programs, The Agricultural School of Fundación Cristo Vive Bolivia, The Big Green, and Vermont Feed.
Contributing Author Sarah Axe
October is national Farm-to-School Month in the United States. Thousands of schools, education sites, and organizations across the world, are embracing food education through school gardens, educational farms, and school meals filled with nutritious, local, and seasonal ingredients. It’s time to celebrate farm-to-school organizations from around the globe.
Farm-to-school programs can help bring locally sourced and nutritious food to school cafeterias, improve child nutrition, provide agriculture, health, and nutrition education opportunities to young people, and support local farmers. 20 years ago there were less than 10 farm-to-school programs in the United States, and now, more than 40 percent of schools host programs, reaching over 23 million children.
The National Farm to School Network estimates that for every dollar invested in farm-to-school activities, it can generate more than two dollars in local economic activity, increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption by more than 40 percent, engage parents in healthier eating at home, reduce food waste at the school, and improve student test scores. Farm-to-school programs can help inspire healthier eating habits in children and these habits can lead to higher educational outcomes. Further, when children learn about the connection between their food and the environment, they often become better stewards of the land. Across the globe, farm-to-school programs are helping foster connections between students, teachers, parents, farmers, and policymakers through activities that support health, nutrition, agriculture, and local economies.
Food Tank is celebrating the farm-to-school month by featuring 29 inspiring and innovative farm-to-school programs from around the world. These programs are working to build connections between schools and farmers, making significant impacts on child health, school attendance rates, food security, and farmer livelihoods in many communities.
Ghana School Feeding Programme, Ghana
The Ghana School Feeding Programme (GFSP), launched by the former Ghanaian government in 2005, started in just 10 schools and has now 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, farmer and household incomes, and food security in many communities across the country. Active across 170 districts, the GSFP is helping reduce child hunger in some of Ghana’s most isolated communities.
Purchase from Africans for Africa Program, multiple countries
The Purchase from Africans for Africa Program (PAA) links smallholder farmers with local schools in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, and Senegal. In its pilot phase, more than 1,000 metric tons of locally procured food was served to nearly 130,000 students across 420 schools. Family farmers’ productivity rates have increased by more than 100 percent because of this guaranteed market for the food they produce. PAA is a partnership between the Government of Brazil, the Government of the United Kingdom, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Food Program’s Purchase for Progress initiative.
Farm to School Africa, multiple countries
One school farm at a time, Farm to School Africa seeks to expand into every community in Africa. Currently, in 5 schools reaching over 2,000 students and teachers, they are setting up school farms and training teachers to become farm instructors. Students are learning how to grow and eat healthy food, nurture plants, and contribute to healthy food production in their communities. Farm to School Africa focuses on building enduring connections between children and their food.
Chengelo School, Zambia
The Chengelo Farm partners with the Chengelo School to harness the creativity and passion of young people in an effort to preserve sustainable agriculture across the nation. The farm-to-school collaboration begins with students starting as early as pre-school and extends through secondary school, providing opportunities to work on the farm and learn a variety of agricultural skills. They also offer formal training for farmers, opportunities for agribusinesses to conduct research, and support to local communities through Foundations Zambia.
Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (Project DISC ), Uganda
Founded by Edward Mukiibi and Roger Sserunjogi in 2006, Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (Project DISC) partners with Slow Food International to bring together students, teachers, parents, and school administrators with the goal of reshaping the way young people look at farming. Many schools in Uganda use farming as a form of discipline, creating a stigma around agriculture as a vocational choice. Project DISC works with schools to grow indigenous crops, teach students how to save seeds, and integrate fresh produce into school meals. The program strives to help students consider farming as a desirable career option.
Food for Life, England
A collaboration between food activist Jeanette Orrey, the United Kingdom Soil Association, and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Food For Life works to change the food culture in nurseries, schools, hospitals, and care homes. It uses a “whole setting approach” to provide nutritious and sustainably produced food, promote healthy food behaviours, and provide nutrition education to patients, residents and their families, and students. The whole-school approach helps ensure that lessons about food and healthy eating are reinforced in daily activities at the school. Food for Life helps participants grow their own food, organize farm visits, source local foods, set up school farmers’ markets and community food events, as well as serve nutritious school meals.
Linking Environment and Farming Education (LEAF Education), United Kingdom
Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) promotes sustainable farming practices that are prosperous, enrich the environment, and engage with local communities. With the vision to produce a thriving and engaged farming agri-food community, LEAF Education works across the U.K. to mobilize farmers and farming businesses to engage in classroom education. LEAF Education provides training and resources to farmers, equipping them with the knowledge and confidence to deliver on-farm and in-classroom education to children. They also provide a range of resources to help teachers integrate lessons about food and farming into their regular curriculum. Their online portal, Countryside Classroom, provides teachers with access to a database of teaching resources, places to visit, and food and farming-related organizations.
Model Vihti, Finland
Model Vihti is a development project in Vihti, Finland, seeking to create sustainable and nature-based learning environments. The garden-based learning model provides opportunities for children to plan future crop seasons, grow seedlings indoors, prepare the soil, as well as plant, sow, and harvest edible crops. They host farm visits for students and teachers to practice daily tasks, from cleaning horse stables to stacking firewood. They also teach children about forestry, water systems, and climate change, as well as basic survival skills such as first aid and fire safety. The program is designed to help children understand the interconnection between the natural and physical processes involved in food production.
Agri Aware, Ireland
Agri Aware facilitates education and public awareness initiatives for farming and non-farming communities across Ireland. The Mobile Farm is an outdoor, hands-on classroom led by trained farmers that teaches children and adults about animals and their role in food production. Agri Aware works with the Dublin Zoo to host the Family Farm, an educational and interactive acre of land representing modern Irish farm life. Every year, the Family Farm hosts nearly 1 million visitors teaching them about farm animals and Ireland’s agricultural history.
School Meals Program, Italy
Since 2001, the city of Rome has been working to make its School Meals Program more sustainable, innovative, and culturally appropriate. Currently, they serve more than 144,000 daily meals across 550 nurseries, primary schools, and secondary schools. 92 percent of the meals are made from scratch and 69 percent include organic food. The program incorporates additional criteria, such as “guaranteed freshness” standards for fruit and vegetables, allowing no more than three days between harvest and intake, as well as seasonality requirements for designing recipes and planning menus. In an effort to preserve the environment, children use ceramic and stainless steel tableware and all single-use items are recyclable or biodegradable.
Farm to Cafeteria Canada, Canada
Farm to Cafeteria Canada (F2CC) leads the Canadian farm-to-school movement striving to bring local, healthy, and sustainable food into all public institutions. In 2017, they reached more than 260,000 people through nearly 1,400 community food initiatives and they trained over 9,000 children and adults across Toronto. F2CC’s Nourishing School Communities program has led to more than 250 policy and behavioural changes at the local and provincial levels. They are working to transform school environments through stronger policies for food safety, food preparation, and local food procurement. Additionally, F2CC encourages student involvement in menu planning, facilitates field trips to local farms, and supports food literacy activities.
Fresh Roots, Canada
Fresh Roots works with schools to increase students’ access to healthy food, land, and community through outdoor learning classrooms called Schoolyard Market Gardens. The first of their kind in Canada, Schoolyard Market Gardens are a place to explore food production, cooking, and eating. They distribute produce grown in the gardens through a weekly Veggie Box and incorporate it into meals served in the school cafeterias. Fresh Roots also provides support and training for teachers, helping them integrate their specific curriculum objectives into the outdoor classroom and garden.
Farm to School, Canada
Farm to School is a fundraising program for schools and daycares across multiple provinces in Canada. They bring fresh, locally grown vegetables to schools who organize volunteer teams responsible for selling the produce; 50 percent of sales go directly back to the schools. Farm to School also provides educational opportunities for students and teachers to learn about healthy food choices and information about Canada’s Food Guide.
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 program, Ecotrust focuses on children from low-income schools and preschools bringing them greater access to fresh, healthy food. Ecotrust offers 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 filled with 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 speciality producers with wholesale food buyers in the region.
National Farm to School Network, United States
The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) provides vision, leadership, and support at state, regional, and national levels in an effort to expand the farm-to-school movement across the United States. More than 20,000 farm-to-school practitioners and supporters are members of the network and support NFSN by advocating for supportive policies, volunteer in their communities, and foster deeper connections and partnerships to strengthen the movement. Every year, NFSN establishes new initiatives, builds stronger partnerships, develops new resources, advocates for policy changes, and holds hundreds of events. Their newest strategic plan recognizes the need for a more targeted approach to programming and operations and includes priorities to strengthen advocacy efforts as well as streamline organizational operations for greater sustainability.
Seven Generations Ahead, United States
Seven Generations Ahead (SGA) works with local governments, communities, and private sectors over a broad range of sustainability topic areas, including healthy community development, local food procurement, healthy eating, and sustainability education. They coordinate the Illinois Farm to School network and offer a toolkit to support schools with farm-to-school activities. SGA directly implements healthy eating curriculum modules in limited-resource schools through the Fresh From the Farm Program (FFF). FFF educators support the planning, design, and implementation of organic school gardens that introduce children to varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables, 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.
The Big Green, United States
Established in 2011 by Hugo Matheson and Kimbal Musk, The Big Green, formerly The Kitchen Community, was founded on the belief that every child should have the opportunity to play, learn, and grow in healthy communities. The Big Green builds Learning Gardens, which are thriving vegetable gardens and hands-on outdoor classrooms with the vision to create healthier environments in underserved schools. Their goal is to increase academic engagement and achievement, strengthen the bond between schools and their communities, and increase knowledge of and preference for fresh fruits and vegetables. They are the largest school garden organization in North America, impacting 240,000 kids across six major metropolitan regions with nearly 400 outdoor Learning Garden classrooms nationwide.
Vermont Feed, United States
Vermont Feed (VT Feed) provides 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 develops 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, facilitating local connections, fostering local engagement, and increasing farm-to-school initiatives in the state.
Food Corps, United States
Working nationally across 18 states, Food Corps believes in creating a future in which every school is a healthy school, and every child is well-nourished and ready to learn. Their membership includes 220 service members working with 18 state partners who collaborate to deliver consistently high quality, impactful programs to students. More than 75 percent of FoodCorps schools report healthier school food environments by the end of the school year. As of 2017, they have reached over 160,000 children in more than 350 schools. Their work includes supporting nearly 800 school gardens and the introduction of 440 new and locally grown foods to cafeterias with accompanying taste tests that encourage students to explore a variety of foods.
Gallatin Valley Farm to School, United States
Started in 2007 by a committee of concerned parents and community members, Gallatin Valley Farm to School cultivates healthy kids, vibrant farms, and strong communities by connecting schools with local producers in Montana. They collaborate with organizations, such as parent councils, the Bozeman School District Food Service, Montana State University, and FoodCorps, to bring local food to school cafeterias, improve student nutrition, provide agricultural and health education to students, enhance local economies and support local farmers, and cultivate community engagement. They host programs such as farm field trips and summer camps and they support the development of school gardens.
Food Connects, United States
A leader in Vermont’s Farm to School movement, Food Connects supports educators, food service directors, farmers, and community members to cultivate healthy farm and food connections in classrooms, cafeterias, and communities across the state. They seek to improve student behaviour and create more engaged learners through hands-on activities, such as gardens and kitchens, educating children about healthy food. Food Connects supports local farms and the local economy by bringing fresh food and local food to school cafeterias.
National School Feeding Programme, Brazil
Under Brazilian law, access to school meals is a universal right. 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 the
source at least 30 percent of produce for school meals from rural, family farms. The program is considered one of the largest and most comprehensive school nutrition programs in the world, supplying approximately 43 million students 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.
Strengthening School Feeding Programs, multiple countries
Following the success of Brazil’s school feeding program, the FAO partnered with the Brazilian government to replicate the program in 13 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean. Strengthening School Feeding Programs works to build sustainable schools through 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 farm products. The program works with schools to develop a unique nutritional plan based on students’ nutritional status, socioeconomic situation, and the knowledge and practices of household food consumption. Food is purchased from local family farms, which helps to ensure dietary diversity and respect for cultural food preferences while simultaneously promoting local economic development.
The Agricultural School of Fundación Cristo Vive Bolivia (FCVB), Bolivia
The Agricultural School of Fundación Cristo Vive Bolivia (FCVB) provides personal and professional development around agriculture to young people. Based in Cochabamba, Bolivia and supported by the Louis Dreyfus Foundation, the agricultural school is part of a technical college that was founded in 2006. The school provides agricultural education, practical agricultural skills, and management training.
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 establish and maintain organic gardens with educational units that include, garden planning, soil health, planting, mulching, watering, and harvesting. They also support units based on good nutrition, the benefits of consuming organic produce, and the process of becoming a certified organic producer. Their program provides background information, lesson plans, activity sheets, case studies, and extra resources for use in primary and middle education.
Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, Australia
Founded by Australian celebrity chef, restaurateur, and food writer, Stephanie Alexander, the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, provides Pleasurable Food Education for primary school children. The program aims to provide pleasurable learning experiences for children with the hope that they will positively influence their food choices, attitudes towards environmental sustainability, and relationships with other children and adults. Pleasurable Food Education encourages critical thinking, teamwork, and increased levels of observation among students based on the idea that fun is integral to learning.
Garden to Table, New Zealand
The Garden to Table program uses practical, hands-on, child-centric classes to teach growing and cooking skills as well as encourage greater individual and collective responsibility for the environment. They teach about the importance of healthy eating and the power of community connectedness. In partnership with T&G (formerly Turners & Growers), Garden to Table launched the Young Gardener Awards to recognize the most passionate young gardeners in the Garden to Table program. There were over 70 entrants in the first year and winners received vouchers to purchase garden tools and resources to help them establish their own home gardens. This year, more categories were added, expanding the opportunities to even more youth. The Garden to Table program began in 2010 with just three schools in Auckland and has now grown into a nationwide program with more than 60 participating schools.
Dairy NZ, New Zealand
DairyNZ strives to strengthen the dairy farming industry through extensive research and community engagement. Funded by dairy farmers, their goal is to build a greater understanding of the connection between dairy farming and New Zealanders, its influence on the economy, and to promote it as a vocational choice. They facilitate education programs about dairy farming and offer curriculum resources to teachers to help them easily integrate dairy farming lessons into their existing curriculum. The goal of the program is to help children learn about the dairy industry while simultaneously learning science, math, and other core subjects.
Permaculture Institute of Asia, Asia
Working with the Thailand Resilience Center, the Permaculture Institute of Asia strives to empower global citizenship through education. With a specific focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, they envision a greener future for the youth of Asia and believe in the impact that school gardening programs can have on their mental, physical, and psychological health. They use school gardens to cultivate relationships with the environment and encourage peer-to-peer learning to build deeper connections with the community. The Institute helps educate students about the interconnectedness between individuals, society, and nature and equips teachers with sustainability focused curriculum, as well as the tools and support to help them integrate the lessons into their daily activities. They also provide direct consultation with schools and educators to help them integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into the classroom.
Green School, Indonesia
The Green School, located in Bali, Indonesia, was founded in 2006 with just 90 students and has now grown to reach over 400 children from pre-school through high school. The school focuses on cultivating the spiritual awareness and emotional intuition of young people with the goal that they will create a more sustainable world. They use a holistic, student-led approach to learning in outdoor classrooms with three guiding principles: be local, let your environment be your guide, and envision how your grandchildren will be affected by your actions.
(Danielle Nierenberg is President of Food Tank and an expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues. She has written extensively on gender and population, the spread of factory farming in the developing world and innovations in sustainable agriculture.)