According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of overweight adolescents and children has doubled since the 1970s. 4.7 million children between six and 17 are considered seriously overweight, contributing to health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Childhood nutrition is a major contributor to the epidemic.
To counteract poor childhood nutrition, many public and healthcare officials understand the importance of bringing healthy foods back into schools. Major initiatives promoting the use of locally produced foods are now underway to reconnect students to food sources.
In 1995, successful Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program started in California. Through her Chez Panisse Foundation, Waters collaborated with teachers and community members to bring a garden to an abandoned lot adjacent to King Middle School in Berkeley. The mission of the Edible Schoolyard is to create and sustain an organic garden that is integrated into the school’s curriculum and lunch program.
The program has children participating in the process. Students help design and farm the garden and prepare the food in an onsite kitchen. The learning continues in the classroom, where students see their work in the garden carried through to history and science lessons.
If they grow it, they will eat it. This kind of integrated cross-disciplinary approach boosts the willingness of children to try nutritious food in the cafeteria. Says Rebecca Sparks, the Department of Nutrition Food Program Coordinator at New York University: “The more hands-on experience students have with healthful foods, the more likely they are to eat that way.”
Connecting school staff with local farms can stimulate supply of fresh, healthy produce. Director of Cornell University Farm to School Program Jennifer Wilkins states: “The most important thing for getting a farm-to-school program going is a partnership of key stakeholders. Key partners include the food service director, area farmers, distributors, administrators, teachers, parents and students.” There are many logistical details that need to be worked out, primarily transportation and storage.
Today more than 200 colleges and 1,000 public school districts in 35 states have initiated farm-to-school programs. In 2004, Congress established a requirement for all school districts that participate in the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act to create and implement wellness policies by the start of the school year 2006-2007.