Farm to school enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools, early childhood education sites, and alternative learning environments. Through farm to school programs students gain access to healthy, local foods as well as educational opportunities such as school gardens, cooking lessons, and farm field trips.
Some elementary schools use farm to school programs to engage with the community by asking community members to serve on their garden committees, teach students about agriculture, or host a tour for students on their farm. Whatever the avenue of engagement, a school garden can enrich student learning.
For elementary schools interested in starting farm to school programs, Sarah Lane, the Farm to School and Early Childhood Education Program Coordinator at the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, advises them to start small. “All it takes is a garden,” said Lane.
The Farm to School and Early Childhood Education Program provides a link between schools, local growers, and the community by pairing education with healthy, locally grown food. Getting started in the program is easy! Schools can start a school garden, buy local food from a nearby farmer to serve in the school, or teach students about gardening, cooking, nutrition, or agriculture. Any of these approaches, or a combination of them, counts as participating in farm to school. School garden grants are also available to qualified schools.
An elementary school garden can also teach many lessons beyond where our food comes from. A garden can support math lessons by measuring the perimeter and area of the garden beds. It can support language arts through books and personal stories about food. The garden can support art by painting still lifes. It can even support music by having students sing songs about nature. The possibilities are endless!
Many Arkansas elementary schools have already dug into school gardens. Hugh Goodwin Elementary in El Dorado won the community collaboration category of the Arkansas Grown School Garden of the Year Contest in 2020. Their garden has raised beds and tabletop beds for produce, and they even raised chickens! The food grown in their garden is given to their cafeteria to be used in school meals or as a taste test. Hugh Goodwin also hosted a fundraiser using Easter eggs, and the grade that raised the most money got to egg their teacher. They raised almost $4000! This elementary school really got in the farm to school spirit.
Forest Park Elementary also has an excellent program. Last year, they won the Best Environmental Education Based School Garden. The students and teachers have built a greenhouse, shade garden, sensory garden, native plant garden, outdoor classroom space, and raised beds. They are currently working with area farmers and hope to serve local foods in their cafeteria next year. When it comes to elementary school gardens there are infinite opportunities! For more information about starting your school garden, check out the school garden section on arfarmtoschool.org. The Farm to School team can offer guidance, advice, and support in a variety of areas. So, what are you waiting for? Get your garden planted this year!