March Madness is Growing on Us!

united stated department of agriculture logo

Volume 3, Issue 9, March 21, 2017

The Dirt - New and Notes from FNS's Office of Community Food Systems
Children gardening

Using Gardens to Grow Healthy Habits

March is the perfect month to go mad over gardening! In celebration of National Nutrition Month, spark up a discussion about healthy eating habits and promote the benefits of eating local foods. Make your food hyper-local by growing it yourself. Start a garden at your school, in your backyard, on a windowsill, or in an old milk jug. Gardening is a great way to learn about how food is grown and it can count towards your daily physical activity needs! 

Start a new type of March Madness this spring and expand your efforts to add more local foods to your community. Here are 3 tips to start a successful garden:

  1. Start small if gardening is new to you. You can always expand the garden later.
  2. Find an area that gets a lot of sun. Sun + water = happy plants!
  3. Test the soil. Take a sample to your local cooperative extension office and ask for a soil test.

Check out these resources for more information about gardening and the benefits of farm to school:

Gardens in Tribal Communities

Now Available: Gardens in Tribal Communities Fact Sheet

Check out our newest fact sheet, Gardens in Tribal Communities. This fact sheet focuses on Tribal Nations leveraging their school gardens as a tool to preserve tribal language, culture, and as a source of food for child nutrition programs. Learn more about how tribal communities are using gardens to educate students and enhance their connection to the land.

Springfield Public Schools

Springfield Public Schools Farm to School Garden Toolkit

Springfield Public Schools in partnership with the Ozarks Regional YMCA developed a comprehensive resource guide to help schools implement garden activities and sustain them for years to come. The toolkit is divided into twelve sections including topics ranging from recruiting volunteers to garden safety. Check out the Springfield Farm to School Garden Toolkit to start a school garden near you!


Youth Farm Stands Toolkit

Youth Farm Stands Take School Gardens to the Next Level

Slow Food Denver and Denver Urban Gardens developed the Youth Farm Stands (YFS) toolkit to engage students by using school grounds to sell produce from school gardens. The YFS model promotes life skills and traditional academics, and provides an opportunity for communities with limited grocery stores to access fresh produce. To learn more, download the Youth Farm Stands Toolkit for free!

South Carolina Garden Toolkit

South Carolina Farm to PreK Toolkit

The South Carolina Farm to Institution was created to increase access to healthy, local foods and create markets for farmers throughout South Carolina. Their garden toolkit enforces the benefits of gardening and exposing children to healthier nutritional practices. Check out the South Carolina Garden Toolkit for details on how to start a garden and best practices for youth engagement.

Zucchini in crates

March is National Frozen Food Month: Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools Make Local Foods Year-Round

Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools (WJCCPS) in Virginia found a way to freeze summer with local yellow squash, zucchini, and tomatoes. In August 2016, they embarked on a new project to process and freeze summer crops sourced from KelRae Farm in Toano, Virginia. The pilot has been a big success with zucchini bread and a summer squash casserole being two of the students favorite recipes. Students will be able to enjoy local yellow squash, zucchini, and tomatoes all winter-long! WJCCPS is leading the charge on the benefits of freezing seasonal produce. Need inspiration? Check out their food preparation videos developed in partnership with the Williamsburg Health Foundation:

Grantee Spotlight: Loudoun County Students Love to Garden!

Kids gardening

Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), in Virginia, hasn't wasted any time teaching students about gardening! Recipients of a 2016 Farm to School Planning grant, LCPS has successfully intrigued young minds with the pleasures of growing their own food. Their partnerships with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Audubon Society are strong partners that help support garden infrastructure and curricular efforts. VDH donated six garden towers to be used for harvesting produce in the classrooms and hosting tastings in the cafeteria. One kindergarten teacher implemented cooking lessons in her class after attending a school garden training hosted by LCPS. The students harvested Swiss chard and were able to make chard chips in their school cafeteria. They also harvested pumpkins, scooped out the seeds, and roasted them. The garden towers were so successful that an additional 40 garden towers will be distributed to schools across the county. 

LCPS has also implemented the Salad Science Program in partnership with Audubon Society. This six week program allowed students to plant and harvest lettuce while tracking the growth and writing about the plant cycle. At the end of the six weeks, students had a salad party where they enjoyed the lettuce they grew and other healthy salad toppings. Two schools have completed this program and three additional schools are signed up for this spring. Approximately 25 schools have incorporated school garden activities in the classroom and the remaining garden towers are managed as part of an after-school program or parent volunteer program. The excitement for school gardens continues to grow in Loudoun County as teachers are interested in adding farm to school and school garden activities to their lesson plans.