Celebrating Spring with School Gardens!

Volume 5, Issue 8, April 24, 2019

Boys plant vegetables in raised garden beds

South Haven's Gardens:

A Growing Success

Spring has sprung, and it’s time to start digging into your school garden! From serving as classrooms and field trip destinations, to providing delicious produce for the cafeteria, school gardens across America are offering students creative learning opportunities to get them excited about eating and growing fresh, local food.

Are you searching for some seeds of inspiration? 2017 Farm to School Implementation grantee, South Haven Public Schools in South Haven, Michigan has a program proven to please. South Haven mixed ingenuity with available resources to develop a comprehensive farm to school program. Their program includes four components: farm field trips, lunchtime farmer visits paired with healthy food tastings, a middle school garden program, and field trips to the “Farm Busses”! The district also has a F.A.R.M. Bus (Fun, Activity, Reading and Meals) library and mobile summer feeding site, featuring nutrition education and local foods to low income housing families and migrant camps.

South Haven wanted to grow more produce, such as fresh spinach, snap peas, and colored peppers, but the late growing season made it difficult to achieve while school was still in session. The District knew that greenhouses were essential to an earlier start, so they secured two out-of-service school buses to convert into mobile greenhouses. These Farm Busses were moved to an abandoned basketball court, transforming the site into a school garden that would easily allow for classroom field trips (and keep out unwanted critters like deer and rabbits). The insides of the buses were gutted, planting boxes were constructed, and the roofs were removed to install skylights. How cool is that!

The District also utilized grant funds to incorporate a garden component to their popular Cooking Matters for Teens summer program. Participants cared for the school garden, harvested plants, and used garden-grown products to create nutritious meals. This farm to summer program ensured the garden was maintained while school was out, while giving students the opportunity to get their hands dirty.

Looking to build your own garden program? USDA has tons of resources to help you get started, such as our new Food Safety Fact Sheet, which includes guidance on how to safely use school garden produce in your cafeterias. Let’s get growing!

Image of an inside of a school bus that has been transformed into a mobile garden

Simple Solutions for Food Waste  

Written by Nicole Kasper, San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition

While food waste is a hot topic in the news and school food research, two school districts in southern Colorado have virtually eliminated it in nearly all of their schools. For as long as anyone can remember, North and South Conejos School Districts have donated all of their food waste in 4 out of 5 of their schools to local pig farmers. This equates to over 1,500 meals diverted from the landfill each day!

How does this work? At the end of each meal, students simply separate their paper trash from their food trash into two different waste bins. Is this a challenge for students? Food Service Directors Joann Garcia and Amber Martinez don’t think so. Martinez grew up in the District and remembers doing it since she was in kindergarten. Garcia pointed to a visiting two-year-old and said, “Well, he can do it!”

The arrangement benefits both the schools in reducing food waste and the farmers in supplying food for their animals. “We help them and they help us,” says Martinez, “it's the circle of life.” Each of the four schools has informal arrangement with a different farmer to pick up the waste at the end of each day. The farmer who picks up food from South Conejos feeds about 60 pigs, plus chickens and rabbits with the food that he gets from the school, along with food that he gets from two local restaurants. He then sells the meat to help feed the local community.  

These districts are completing the circle of Farm to School to Farm and back to the community! Want to know how your school can reduce food waste? Register as a participant in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge!

Boy dumps his lunch tray into a school cafeteria trash can

The Census is Coming!

The Office of Community Food Systems is excited to announce that the third Farm to School Census will launch this September! According to the 2015 Farm to School Census, schools have invested nearly $790 million in local communities. Have we reached a billion yet? Help us find out by ensuring your district participates this fall. For more information about the Census and farm to school in general, contact a USDA Farm to School Regional Lead.

Logo for the USDA Farm to School Census

Resource Alerts!

SNAP into Gardening

SNAP-Ed agencies across the country are involved in community and school gardening. If garden projects are part of your spring plans, the SNAP-Ed Connection has you covered!


New National Farm to School Network Resources

Looking for resources to help grow your farm to school efforts? The National Farm to School Network has several new fact sheets and toolkits available to support farm to school practitioners, including:

Upcoming Webinars

Local Procurement: Definitions are Pivotal

Thursday, April 25 // 3:30 PM ET

The National Farm to Institution Metrics Collaborative is hosting “Local Procurement: Definitions are Pivotal” on Thursday, April 25th. The webinar will demonstrate the importance of identifying the ‘what’ and ‘why’ when establishing local food definitions and metrics and feature guest speaker Lilian Brislen of the University of Kentucky. Register here!


Farm to School and National Agriculture in the Classroom

Tuesday, May 7 // 1 PM ET

Food and agriculture education is a core element of farm to school and vital to developing a comprehensive and impactful farm to school programs. The National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization (NAITCO) and its member state programs provide K-12 teachers with educational resources and programs that use agricultural concepts to teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies and more. Join this National Farm to School Network (NFSN) webinar to hear from NAITCO about resources, information, and partnerships and learn from Healthy Communities of the Capital City, NFSN Core Partner in Maine, about how Agriculture in the Classroom partnerships have expanded farm to school initiatives in their state. Register here.  


Farm to School Resource Roundup: Resources for Implementing State Farm to School Strategies

Wednesday, May 29 // 3 PM ET    

Responding to the rapid growth and interest in farm to school, the National Farm to School Network has been building the capacity of its partners to advance farm to school at the state level through three complementary strategies: (1) state farm to school networks, (2) state farm to school positions at state agencies and university Extension offices, and (3) state farm to school policies. To support these efforts, the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) has developed an accompanying resource for each of the three strategies.

Join the National Farm to School Network and special guest State Farm to School Policy Handbook coauthors, Vermont Law School, to learn more about these resources and how to apply these strategies in your state. Register here.