Our guest blogger today is Ally Lemmer, a FoodCorps Service Member who serves with both Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and Life Lab in the Central Coast region. Read on to hear about Ally’s work with the Harvest of the Month program and how FoodCorps plays a role in boosting that program’s impact in the South Bay and Central Coast! To learn more about FoodCorps in California, visit our page on the FoodCorps website.
Depending on your region and school district, farm to school programs often take many different faces. From sourcing local produce from a nearby farm or harvesting some carrots and beets in your own school garden, there are endless of ways of how a farm to school program can be implemented in your own school district or community. For my service, the role I play in building up farm to school is through Harvest of the Month programming (HOTM).
In the heart of the Central Coast, Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), with the collaboration of the Network for a Healthy California, works on a successful and growing Harvest of the Month program.
Unlike other Harvest of the Month programs, which feature a general local and seasonal fruit or vegetable in the school cafeteria, CAFF takes a step further by sourcing this local and fresh produce specifically from small to medium-sized family farmers. This can end up being a huge boon to a family farm’s business!
This produce is then distributed to more than five hundred classrooms and participating organizations throughout the Central Coast and South Bay regions. Each classroom receives a kit of educational materials based on that featured fruit or vegetable, a farmer profile, and enough produce for a simple tasting. These kits are meant to connect students with local and fresh healthy produce and surrounding family farmers within their community.
This program is so strong that it goes beyond just sourcing local produce. CAFF also sends their AmeriCorps and FoodCorps Service Members–like myself!–to teach in classrooms as far north as San Mateo to as far south as Salinas. This adds an educational element to the local food work that we do. As I’ve learned, it’s not enough to just start providing local food in schools–it takes an approach that gets kids used to the flavors and uses of vegetables and fruits, so that local procurement can continue to grow successfully.
Each lesson we teach varies on topic according to what produce is being featured as well as what will connect with current California and Common Core standards with each grade level. However, each lesson has one common goal: to simply engage students with the importance of eating fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables while supporting local family farmers.
As a FoodCorps Service Member with CAFF, I have had the privilege to work in classrooms mostly throughout Watsonville and Greenfield, two agriculturally-rich towns in the heart of the Central Coast. Visiting about 12 classrooms a month, I have seen the huge shifts of each student’s healthy eating habits, where they often tell me that they tried one of our recipes at home or have used the fruit or vegetable in a homemade meal with family.
In addition to their classroom, I’m often on the playground and in the cafeteria talking with kids about the health benefits of whatever is being served or playing a quick game or activity with them. It’s amazing to see how excited they get. I really can’t walk around any of the schools’ campuses without students either asking when I’m visiting their classrooms again, what we will be trying next month, or even simply holding up their carrots and apples to me showing that they are eating their fruits and vegetables during lunch! It’s really incredible.
Here are a few inspirational quotes and stories:
“I always try the recipes you give us in class,” said a 3rd grader who took home a recipe to his mother.
“My mom and I made the kale smoothie you made in class. I tried to convince my brother that kale was really good in smoothies too,” said a 3rd grade student at Cesar Chavez Elementary in Greenfield, CA shared and modeled (yes, she even showed all the hand motions) with the class how her father harvests, packs and then distributes locally-grown kale and leafy greens in Salinas, CA.
“Ms. Ally, I really like trying these fruits and vegetables from the farmers. When will you be coming back again?” said another 3rd grader
“You’re the one who gave us kale!” exclaimed a Kindergarten student after school at H A Hyde Elementary. “Did you like it?” I asked him while he ran to his mother. “I didn’t like it the first time, but the second time I tried it, I really liked it.”