Growing Healthier: Farm To School Food Program Takes Shape

Farm to School

Photo By Gerstner Photography
Students at Asbell Elementary School work in their garden.

By Quinn Montana

People today are much more conscious of the need for planning for food security. It’s a crazy world. Will our children have the skills and knowledge they need?

Well, in NWA the seeds have been planted for abundance. Over the last five years several groups have sprung up to foster knowledge about healthy foods, specifically growing food and preparing food. Our schools are leading the way in programs that will make children aware of the importance of good, healthy food choices, portion sizes and real hands-on knowledge of where their food comes from.

The Dark Ages Of Food

In recent decades, many urban children had lost touch with the fact that their food comes from anywhere but the grocery store. Barbara Kingsolver, author of “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” tells the story of neighborhood kids agape at watching her husband pull a carrot from… the ground! To them it was like a magic trick, like someone pulling a quarter from your ear. Amazing!

Fortunately, many adults in our community have worked together to make sure that our young people not only know where their food comes from, but how to raise it themselves.

Fayetteville School District

The Fayetteville school district has taken the reins on many fronts. Over the last few years they have made huge revisions in their approach to lunch menus and now incorporate a farsighted and comprehensive Farm to School program integrating locally-grown vegetables into as many of their innovative and nutritious lunches as possible.

Three middle schools and the high school now have salad bars with local produce. Even ground beef is purchased locally. All elementary schools will have lunches featuring locally-grown food by this Spring.

Additionally, according to Dana Smith, Sustainability Coordinator at Fayetteville Public Schools, all nine elementary schools in the district now have school gardens. This means that all Fayetteville children have a chance to work with the soil: to plant and watch the fruits of their labor sprout from the ground.

Research Proves Benefits

Studies have shown that children who had home-grown vegetables available ate the suggested five or more servings of them more than twice as often as those that didn’t have this luxury.

Research at the University of Saint Louis by Dr. Haire-Joshu, Director of the Saint Louis University Obesity Prevention Center conducted a survey tabulating and analyzing the interview responses of 1,600 parents living in Southeast Missouri with preschool-aged children. They found that children who eat home-grown produce prefer fruits and vegetables to other foods.

Ms. Smith also mentioned that the public schools have “partnered with UofA Food Science Department to process and freeze local tomatoes for spaghetti sauce to be used in middle schools.” Much of this has been accomplished with a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant and a Southern SARE community innovation grant.

Apple Seeds is another organization working with the schools to help with the School Gardens Program. “Apple Seeds garden students are engaged and empowered,” according to the goal of the program, “They take pride in their gardens, while exploring new flavors and ingredients. Harvesting food, preparing it, then eating it, is a rewarding and enjoyable experience that shifts the culture around how and what our kids choose to eat.”

Apple Seeds said “The gardens are outdoor classrooms that help children discover, observe and learn through hands-on curriculum. Students harvest and prepare fresh, healthy snacks. They share and sell their bounty at student-run School Garden Farmers’ Markets — a practical and fun extension of math curriculum in a real-world setting. Alongside positive changes in eating behavior, gardening programs create bonds across grade levels, foster teamwork, and instill a sense of ownership and accountability.”

Feed Fayetteville is another organization partnering with our schools to ensure that all children are able to have access to healthy food. Their mission states, “Feed Fayetteville was founded to cultivate proactive, durable solutions to local hunger, childhood obesity and the relationships between both of these hot-spots with a focus upon supporting local farmers and producers in our community. Our mission is to alleviate hunger and create community food security by cultivating a local, sustainable food network.”

A Brighter Future

With all this good work going on, Fayetteville and surrounding areas are a beehive of enthusiasm and learning, ensuring that our young people not only know where their food comes from, but understand the importance of healthy bodies, healthy food choices and healthy community. The knowledge they are gaining supports our local economy as well as taking care of our local environment. And kids know it.

With the dedication of a growing core of passionate adults, our children will be fit, healthy and armed with the skills and knowledge they need to face the future by “growing” healthier.

Quinn Montana, author of “Worship Your Food” and local food security activist. Contact her at

Categories: Family Friendly