Gardens next to playgrounds, salad bars in lunch rooms, field trips to farms. Schools are revamping nutrition and health education with Farm to School programs that make healthy eating fun, interactive and tangible for kids.
Schools and districts across the country are planting the seeds for program development. In Colorado, more than 75 public school districts with approximately 562,170 students are engaged in Farm to School activities, with more joining the movement each year. Colorado is at the forefront of collecting standardized statewide data that will track the progress and challenges.
Farm to School is an umbrella term for activities that bring local produce into schools to promote healthy eating and access to fresh foods. School districts mix and match Farm to School programs or come up with new ideas, such as serving locally sourced foods or by introducing farm and nutrition education to classroom learning. Examples include reading about farming in English classes and learning about environmental impact of farming in Science classes.
Like most Americans, Coloradans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. This deficiency can lead to weight gain, obesity and related conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and heart disease.
Early research on Farm to School initiatives has consistently demonstrated positive impacts on eating habits. Picky eaters are more likely to try new foods when they have been involved in the growing process, and promoting a taste for fruits and vegetables earlier in life can foster lifelong healthy eating. Research has also found that Farm to School initiatives improve the diets of teachers and staff as well as students.
But benefits extend beyond slimmer waistlines. Farm to School programs benefit agricultural producers, stimulate local economies, and promote environmentally friendly food practices.
Colorado’s legislature passed the “Farm-to-School Healthy Kids Act” in 2010. The law created the Farm to School Task Force, with representatives from schools, parents, producer organizations and state agencies, with a goal of achieving “collaborative, sustainable implementation of farm to school statewide.” The task force’s 2013 legislative report detailed progress over the previous two years and envisioned the future direction of Farm to School programming in Colorado.
Moving forward, the task force is focused on tracking Farm to Schools programs to build a robust evidence base on effective program models and common policy and regulatory barriers. The task force’s evaluation toolkit encourages schools and districts to use a common set of measures and indicators, providing insights on how these programs should expand and promoting specific endeavors that increase enthusiasm for and participation in the project.