As the Executive Director of the UNFI Foundation, I see allot of requests for support of farm to school initiatives. What better way to fight obesity and chronic health issues than by educating our youth on healthy and nutritious eating.
I am constantly amazed at the number of young people who don’t know what broccoli looks like when it is growing- “what are those giant green leaves?” That beet-root actually comes from beneath the soil and not out of a can! Honoring October as the National Farm to School Month is an admirable way to highlight this deficiency of food knowledge and its relationship to nutrition.
The farm to school idea is all about sourcing local food for schools or preschools and providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, such as school gardens, farm field trips and cooking lessons. These programs improve the health of children and communities while supporting local and regional farmers. It’s a win-win for the entire community.
You can participate in the National Farm to School initiative this month in several ways:
Register as a member on the website to get information about Farm to School programs in your community. Join the mailing list to receive e-mail alerts from the National Farm to School Network, and occasional mailings about events in your area. Get involved by participating in a different activity each day. To celebrate and spotlight the many aspects of farm to school, the National Farm to School Network put together a theme of the day calendar that you can use to plan your activities. During October, each theme day will be accompanied by a blog post containing information and activity ideas.
Then tell your story! Farm to School Counts participants will be entered into a drawing to win free registration to the 7th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference: Powering Up in Austin, Texas, April 15 to 18. Qualifying participants will also be entered in a drawing to win a garden curriculum kit from Veggie U, or Veggiecator training and a cooking kit from Veggiecation. While supplies last, all participants will receive digital access to an online nutrition curriculum kit from Institute for America’s Health, and all participants will be entered to win a $50 gift certificate from For Small Hands.
If you’re a farmer, connect with your local school and offer to conduct a classroom session during October or offer to host a visit to your farm. Promote Farm to School Month on your farm or at your farmers’ market booth with posters and other materials, which can be downloaded or ordered from the resource page.
And if you feel so moved, all donations to the National Farm to School Network made during October will be MATCHED by the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation (up to $2,500 total)!
The obesity epidemic is one of the biggest drivers of preventable diseases and health care costs in the US. Estimates for these costs range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion annually, with job absenteeism related to obesity costing another $4.3 billion annually. A 2008 study by the Urban Institute, New York Academy of Medicine, and the Trust for America’s Health found that an investment of $10 per person in proven community-based programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and prevent tobacco use could save the country more than $16 billion annually within five years. That’s a return of $5.60 for every $1 invested. We have simply not invested enough in these types of community-based initiatives.
The National Farm to School Initiative couples nutrition and physical activity as two superb ways to fight this epidemic in your community. Let’s do it for the children who deserve a healthier future. Let me know how you are participating this month!