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Serving Up Tradition!

NFSN Staff Thursday, August 31, 2017
By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

Since farm to school celebrates local food, farmers, communities and traditions, it looks different in every community.  So an important question for our work is, “what do culturally relevant and traditional foods look like in our schools?” Food service directors, garden educators and school administration should ask, ‘Is this food culturally relevant to my students?’ in the same way that they ask, ‘Is this food grown locally?’. The following are two stories of farm to school champions that recognize the importance of structuring farm to school activities to reflect their communities’ food cultures. 

In the capitol of Iowa’s heartland, Executive Chef Chad Taylor has been working in the Des Moines Public Schools for over 20 years. The DMPS district serves 63 locations and an average of 34,000 students daily. While the district has worked with farm to school initiatives through state funded nutrition education programs, FoodCorps, and a USDA Farm to School grant, it was not until several years ago that the district started considering the intersection of culturally relevant foods with farm to school. 

A principal from one of the district’s middle schools approached Chad with a unique challenge involving a group of immigrant students.  These middle school students were going home at lunch to eat and not returning to school because they were uncomfortable with the foods being offered through school lunch, and too embarrassed to bring their traditional foods from home. Chad met with these students and their families and asked what they would like to see offered on the school lunch menu. He did not want the changes to be a one time hit and miss, so DMPS committed to offering noodles and/or rice everyday at this middle school per the students’ request. In the end, it was a win for all students. Chad noted that, “the Midwest native students wanted to try the new foods, too.” 

Today, DMPS Food Service works to provide flavor stations in many of their schools, giving students access to a variety of culturally-relevant herbs, sauces and other flavor enhancers such as locally grown jalapenos. Chad was quick to point out that not every flavor station looks the same because every school has students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Since the 1970’s, the district has included a number of immigrant and refugee populations from Latin America, Asia and Africa. Even within a single school district farm to school is not one size fits all.

About 4,000 miles from Des Moines, a farm to school pilot on the island of Kauai in Hawaii is taking off under the direction of Megan Fox, Executive Director for the nonprofit organization Mala’ai Kula. There are approximately 350 students in the four charter schools that Mala’ai Kula serves. Most of the students are native Hawaiian and have chosen to attend these schools because of programs such as Hawaiian Language immersion, which allows students to learn in their native language before learning in English. The emphasis on the importance of native traditions extends into these schools’ food service and education thanks, in part, to the support from Mala’ai Kula, a recipient of a National Farm to School Network Seed Change in Native Communities* mini-grant. 

Since Hawaii was colonized, the western diet has brought non-traditional foods such as nitrite-filled meats and ultra-processed snacks to the island. Today, Hawaiians have high rates of diet-related diseases such as chronic high blood pressure and diabetes.  This is one of the many reasons that Mala’ai Kula’s farm to school pilot work is so important. Megan described farm to school as a tool for “giving local farmers an outlet for native foods.”  She added that farm to school helps in the effort toward “creating a traditional food way and bringing back a more native diet.”

With funding support from Seed Change, several of the schools’ food service staff attended an Edible Schoolyard training in Berkley, California this summer. This training served as an invaluable tool that inspired one school chef to reconnect with the importance of Hawaii’s native foods, also known as canoe foods. Kalo (taro), ‘Ulu (breadfruit), and ‘Uala (sweet potatoes) are all canoe foods that are now growing in school gardens, being served up on school lunch and breakfast trays, and serving as teaching resources to connect students to their ancestry. 

From a large school district in the Midwest to small, native charter schools in Kauai, a focus on culturally relevant foods can look vastly different depending on the school community.  Many farm to school slogans highlight the power of farm to school’s ability to ‘serve up change.’ The Des Moines Public Schools and Mala’ai Kula remind us that using farm to school to ‘serve up tradition’ can be just as powerful. 


*Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School is made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.

Farm to ECE On The Menu At National Indian Head Start Director’s Association Conference

NFSN Staff Thursday, July 06, 2017

By Abby Harper, Farm to School Specialist, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems

Farm to early care and education was on the menu at this year’s National Indian Head Start Director’s Association Annual Conference in Denver, Colo. in early June. The annual conference brings together leaders from all levels of management and leadership in American Indian and Alaskan Native (AIAN) Head Start programs, and this year over 40 attendees participated in a session to learn more about farm to early care and education (ECE). The session covered an overview of farm to ECE, presented strategies and resources to support implementing different components of farm to ECE, and allowed ample opportunity for attendees to discuss interest, challenges and opportunities in their programs.

The theme of this year’s conference, Preserving Indigenous Learning, opened up space to discuss how local foods can be a tool for celebrating cultural traditions of the populations served by AIAN Head Start programs. While some may think of local foods primarily related to fruits or vegetables, participants in this session highlighted local foods like salmon, bison and chili peppers as items of highest interest in incorporating into early childhood programs. During discussion, many attendees expressed interest in using local foods to teach children about food traditions and agricultural history of the populations they serve, and creating space for family engagement around gardening and food preparation. One attendee saw an opportunity in highlighting local, traditional foods as a tool for celebrating culture and instilling a sense of pride in their young children. Building off of that idea, another attendee noted the opportunity to use local foods as a way to teach children and families – many of whom have lost a connection to tribal foods – the nutritional value and preparation methods for traditional foods.

Attendees of the session expressed general interest in purchasing and utilizing local foods in early childhood meal programs, but noted several challenges specific to their communities and to bringing tribal foods and traditions into cafeterias, classrooms and gardens. In addition to challenges related to budget, geographic location presents a unique barrier for AIAN Head Start programs, as many reservations lack access to high quality agricultural land and locations to purchase reasonably priced local foods. Additionally, some foods that are of interest to tribal communities, such as wild game, foraged foods or bison raised on agricultural land, may not qualify for reimbursement under the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

Colusa Indian Child Care Center has been incorporating local foods into its early childhood programs since 2005, as a response to parents and community members noting rising health issues due to poor diets in their communities. Director Kim Nall saw local foods as a tool for increasing access to healthier lifestyles and as part of their responsibility in caring for children. “The kids are with us 8 or 9 hours a day. This is something that we need to be invested in and it’s something that we need to take seriously.” Since then, Colusa Indian Child Care Center has taken big strides to make local foods a part of its normal operations. Program staff started by establishing several on-site gardens , which grow produce for meals and snacks. They also began purchasing a variety of foods from local farms, including developing a long-term relationship with a stone fruit grower and purchasing nuts, honey and rice from nearby tribal farmers. Early on, they encountered challenges meeting minimum orders for some area farmers, so they partnered with local schools to coordinate deliveries on the same day farmers were delivering to larger school districts. Since the beginning, they’ve involved parents in every aspect of their farm to ECE activities. Parents and families test taste new recipes, help with food preparation and attend open houses that feature local farmers and vendors.

At Colusa Indian Child Care Center, the efforts are paying off. Children have become accustomed to local, seasonal foods, and these healthy habits are now ingrained in how the children approach what they eat. The staff have also seen changes in parents, who are now more open to new menus and are taking a leading role in encouraging their children to eat healthy, local foods.  The on-site farm stand has also increased in popularity among families. The center credits a lot of its success with being active in the local food scene. By participating on local food policy councils and learning what school districts in the area are doing, Colusa Indian Child Care Center has become part of the local food conversation and gained access to important resources to support its programming. 

There are many resources to support early childhood programs serving AIAN populations. The National Farm to School Network has funded five farm to school programs in tribal communities that AIAN Head Start programs can learn from.  The USDA has provided guidance on utilizing traditional foods in child nutrition programs, bringing tribal foods and traditions into cafeterias, classrooms, and gardens, and gardens in tribal communities. Additionally, technical assistance providers looking to connect with AIAN programs can work with AIAN grantee organizations. These resources and the enthusiastic discussion at the National Indian Head Start Director’s Association’s June conference indicate a growing number of AIAN early childhood and head start programs that use local and traditional foods to improve nutrition and celebrate culture.

Photo credits: (Top) National Farm to School Network; (Bottom) Colusa Indian Child Care Center

Five Mini-Grants Awarded in Native Communities

NFSN Staff Monday, April 17, 2017

The National Farm to School Network’s new Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School project is taking off this month with the selection of five Native schools as mini-grantees. From planting native orchards to serving traditional foods in school meals, the schools will be expanding farm to school activities and leveraging community support to build food security and food sovereignty. Here’s a preview of the projects they’ll be working on:
 
Hardin School District 17H&1Crow Reservation: Crow Nation (Montana)
Partner with local entities and individuals to empower students in learning about traditional foods, preparation, storage and ceremony. Create a native orchard, featuring a variety of native berries, including buffalo berries, june berries and chokecherries.
 
Hydaburg City SchoolHydaburg, Prince of Wales Island: Haida Nation (Alaska)
Connect students with locally grown and traditional foods (such as rutabagas, parsnips and the Haida potato) by expanding the existing school garden to include a greenhouse. In May, students will celebrate Haida Day by giving Elders a tour of the new greenhouse and learning about the village’s old garden site.
 
Indian Township SchoolIndian Township Reservation: Passamaquoddy Tribe (Maine)
Engage students in traditional growing practices by reviving an existing greenhouse and school garden. Students will catch fish to be used as garden fertilizer, and will learn planting techniques like the Three Sisters. Food grown in the garden will supplement the school lunch program, summer food service and elderly food site.
 
Mala`ai Kula: Kaua`i Farm-to-School PilotKaua`i Island: Native Hawaiians (Hawaii)
Support an existing three-year pilot project to create a culturally relevant farm to school program at two Kaua`i schools. On Kaua`i, where 90 percent of food is imported, Mala`ai Kula is helping students build a healthier relationship with traditional food systems through school gardens and locally-grown foods in school meals.
 
Warm Springs K8 Academy Warm Springs Reservation: Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Oregon)
Help students make connections about where food comes from and how it relates to their cultural heritage by planting a school garden and promoting a healthy snacks program. The garden will also be used for science and nutrition education.

Stay tuned to hear more from these schools in the coming months. We'll be sharing their stories and successes in our e-newsletter, social media and here on our blog!
 
 
Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School is made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.

Connecting to Cherokee culture with farm to school

NFSN Staff Friday, January 08, 2016
By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate
 Garden signs at Cherokee Central Schools. (Credit: Cherokee Central Schools)

From school gardens and farm visits, to Harvest of the Month initiatives and local food taste tests, farm to school activities are adaptable to every educational setting. That’s what makes farm to school exciting – the opportunities are endless! 

In Western North Carolina, Cherokee Central Schools use farm to school practices to engage students in healthy eating while connecting them to Native culture. Serving 1,250 elementary, middle and high school students from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, the school district integrates Cherokee culture into all aspect of learning – and the cafeteria is no exception. 

For several years, Janette Broda, the district’s Child Nutrition Director, has worked to include locally grown foods in school meals. With the addition of two FoodCorps service members and a USDA Farm to School Grant in 2014, the district expanded their farm to school activities. Local foods like apples, cabbage and romaine lettuce have become staples on the lunch menu, the campus’s nine raised garden beds have been expanded to 22, and a campus greenhouse hydroponic system has been added.  

With support from the National Farm to School Network, Broda and FoodCorps service members Katie Rainwater and Alison Villa have further connected students to their Native heritage through farm to school activities. In the garden, they’ve planted traditional Cherokee crops with edible, medicinal and craft uses, like corn varieties with hard seeds that can be used for making jewelry. Many of the heirloom crops grown in the garden came from seeds handed down by generations of local Cherokee farmers, which students have marked with colorful signs that label the plants in both Cherokee and English.  

 Students create garden signs and posters. (Credit: Cherokee Central Schools)
In the cafeteria, the team coordinated with the middle school art class to create a mural that depicts the four seasons and highlights traditional Cherokee foods. They’ve also purchased posters featuring seasonal produce labeled in Cherokee and English to be featured in all three school cafeterias. 

For the classroom, a farm to school resource library has been developed for teachers. The library includes nutrition education materials, study guides and resources to help create comprehensive lesson plans that integrate farm to school principles into classroom curriculum. For example, the 5th grade science class recently conducted a compost trail test to project how much their landfill waste could be reduced by composting cafeteria food scraps. 

Two newly purchased mobile kitchens with induction stoves, blenders and cooking tools are also getting good use. Katie and Allison move these pop-up cooking stations between classrooms and the school greenhouse, where students learn to transform freshly harvested vegetables into delicious snacks, like salads, pesto and smoothies. The team is now developing a food safety plan and working towards GAP certification so garden produce can be harvested and served directly in school meals. 

At Cherokee Central Schools, farm to school not only get kids excited about fresh, healthy food, but creatively connects students to their Native heritage. From the school garden to art class, and the cafeteria to science lessons, these farm to school activities are planting the seeds of a vibrant, healthy future. 


Keeping indigenous food knowledge alive with farm to school

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 27, 2015
This week's Farm to School Month blogs are sponsored by the Orfalea Foundation School Food Initiative, which has empowered campus food service operations to serve fresh, healthy school meals; installed school gardens; launched food literacy programs; and assisted school districts in their aspirations to become centers of health and wellness. The Orfalea Foundation applauds the efforts of National Farm to School Network and is proud to be a sponsor of Farm to School Month. 

 Photo Credit: FoodCorps
By FoodCorps, with featured writing from Service Member Will Conway 
From medicinal plants to preparation of traditional meals, food has always been central to the cultural teachings of Native peoples in North America. But today, Native communities experience some of the highest incidence of type 2 diabetes among children and young adults, as well the lowest access to fresh foods. That’s why from North Carolina to Arizona, and Oregon to the Hawaiian islands, FoodCorps and its local partners are committed to helping to reverse those trends and supporting efforts to celebrate and expand indigenous food knowledge.

For Native communities, the principles of farm to school make sense, but they’re not new. As FoodCorps Arizona Service Member Will Conway explains: “Prior to the existence of schools, indigenous elders educated Native youth about agricultural practices and food. As the modern world encroaches on the traditions of Native people, what is now called ‘farm to school’ has become a means for reclaiming Native identity in Native communities. Educating Native youth about the sacred importance of food to their culture has become a weapon in the fight against the damaging impacts of the food system, which has disproportionally affected Native Americans.”

In Arizona alone, FoodCorps serves the Navajo, Tohono O’odham, and Apache tribes. On Navajo Nation, Tyrone Thompson is serving a second year with the STAR School, where he is bringing his experience as a farmer in the community to connect and engage kids with fresh, healthy food. 

“Schools are the biggest institution that feeds people in our community,” Tyrone explains. So he’s helping his student take part in the entire process of bringing food from soil to tray. They plant seeds, tend to growing plants on the school farm, harvest produce, and deliver vegetables to the school’s cafeteria, where they’re used in the school lunch program. For the STAR school, farm to school means going straight from the school garden through the doors of the cafeteria!

But getting fresh foods into students’ mouths is just one piece of farm to school in Native communities. Reconnecting kids with indigenous foods, culture and traditions is an important piece of the equation. “We connect with the elders,” Tyrone explains, “because that’s where most of the indigenous knowledge is held.” 

 
Students plants native corn in Painted Desert, Arizona (Photo Credit: FoodCrops) 
In Tuba City, Will Conway works with Navajo farmers and elders to help connect kids to traditional food knowledge. They’ve set up an education plot at the community farm where the farmers and elders can teach kids about traditional plants and growing methods. “Children ranging from pre-k to 6th grade are planting native corn, melons, and beans using traditional tools,” he explains. “The elder recently taught the youth the role of corn in the Hopi creation story and the importance of preserving the corn seeds native to Tuba City.” 

And in White River, FoodCorps service member Maya Harjo is helping students from the White Mountain Apache Tribe think about food as a powerful economic tool for the community. She teamed up with the Arrowhead Business Group Camp for cooking challenge where students had 30 minutes to create a unique food product that incorporated traditional foods, as well as a sale pitch that connected the product to their tribal community. The challenge was an entertaining jumping-off point for getting students to think about food as a means of strengthening the community's economic independence and bolstering traditional food ways. 

This hands-on food education is giving students in Native communities an opportunity to rekindle their connection with Native heritage, as well as empowering them to make healthy food choices that improve health outcomes. Tapping into these roots helps gives farm to school in these communities staying power.

“Indigenous knowledge is being lost,” says Tyrone, “but it’s something we are able to keep alive through food.”


To read more about healthy habits and heritage in native communities, visit the FoodCorps Arizona blog.

Farm to School taking root in Indian Country

NFSN Staff Monday, October 13, 2014

Guest post by Alena Paisano, Farm to Table New Mexico

Farm to Table New Mexico serves as the Southwest Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 


Randy Chatto 

Randy Chatto from the community of Ramah, New Mexico has been working with a team of community members on the “Empowering Ramah Navajos to Eat Healthy” project (ERNEH) for more than two years. This project, funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is the first step in developing a community-wide effort to grow fresh food for community families and the school.

The goal of the ERNEH project is to provide fresh and locally grown food for community families and for students and staff with the K-12 Pine Hill School. The food that is being brought to the school and used in meals and celebrations are traditional Navajo foods such as Navajo gray Hubbard squash, Navajo yellow corn, and blue corn. There are now over 50 family gardens spread across the community that provide local, fresh and traditional healthy foods.  

Randy has undoubtedly been a leader in the project: He designed the small grow boxes that use gravity-fed irrigation systems, went door-to-door to get people on board,  and even supports each individual garden with education and training. Randy is also working with external partners such as the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) to share best practices with other Native groups and help build project sustainability. He attended the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference this past April as a participant in NFSN's Native Nations convening and will continue to work with regional partners throughout this year.

The Ramah Navajo community is a very isolated, rural, desert-like community that lacks sufficient good growing soil and adequate precipitation to easily grow fresh vegetables and fruits. Another challenge Randy sees is that folks have had to learn how to garden again, as they used to, instead of relying solely on retail markets that are 50-60 miles away.

At its core, ERNEH is about community transformation - working with young children, families and elders to revitalize a local and traditional food system for the Ramah Navajo people. 

AN INTERVIEW WITH MR. RANDY CHATTO (2012)

What’s your favorite thing about being involved in your traditional foods project?      
Being a part of history: “Traditional foods” is probably one of the most important elements in any Native American/Alaskan Native’s culture. In that culture there is someone keeping that practice moving forward, keeping it alive through sowing, hunting, gathering, reaping and harvesting. You are a key component to keeping your land and your people healthy, informed, encouraged and appreciated. I feel very fortunate and blessed to know that I, in some way, am helping my people.

How has this project impacted your community?  
Many of our community members are excited to take part in a program that encourages them to plant, harvest and prepare their own traditional plant foods. Many of our families and even departments within our organization are beginning to eat healthy as they are seeing and realizing the significance of the re-introduction of family gardens, community gardens and dry land farming.   

What are your plans to sustain this project?  
This project is not a temporary spark for this community but a lifestyle deeply rooted in our Diné culture. We must continue this effort to eat healthy and keep moving. We must all lend a hand and be part of a voice in keeping our people healthy. We are our own resource, and we need to continue to tap into it. The spirit of self sufficiency has always been with us but we have to carry on that community action. It’s about raising champions in every facet of our peoples’ lives: in body, in mind and in spirit!    

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