I just had an incredible weekend the 2008 Georgia Organics Conference where I participated as an instructor for Georgia Organics Farm to School Track for kids in attendance. Erin Croom was lead coordinator and facilitator for this portion of the the conference. She created an impressive program for kids aged 4-14. Kids made their own books, sang songs, played with worms, made butter and learned how to make bread and snacked on healthy foods.
Being part of this program reinforced for me the importance of connecting kids to food. Through this type of educational experience kids have the opportunity to learn and develop a deeper understanding of where food comes from and how important it is to be mindful of what they eat.

At a time when childhood obesity and nutrition-related disease is rapidly rising, America's small farms are decreasing, and food security is becoming more fragile, Farm to School programs are emerging as thoughtful, holistic solutions. Farm to School programs connect schools with local farms.

Their objectives include:

· serving healthy meals in school cafeterias

· improving student nutrition

· supporting small, local farmers

Farm to School programs generally strive to involve all of the stakeholders participating in school food web. These individuals include food service professionals, farmers, distributors, teachers, administrators, nutritionists, students, parents, and community members .

Farm to School programs offer all involved a unique opportunity to connect to their food and food systems. Some proven benefits include:

· Increased student nutrition. Evaluations of Farm to School programs have shown to increase students' consumption and knowledge of local and nutritious foods.

· Supporting local farmers. With more than 30 million children eating the federally supporting school lunch every day, farmers have a great opportunity in selling food to community schools.

· Supporting local economy. While most food travels over 1,500 miles before it reaches a plate, schools can choose to spend some of their dollars on fresh, local produce.

Here are some helpful resources for more information about how you can get involved on a local and national level with Farm to School.

Learn more. Initiated in 2000, the National Farm to School Program has spearheaded the development of the farm to school movement across the country, successfully assisting organizations in starting up and sustaining farm to school efforts, fundraising, and providing informational resources, education and training for farm to school stakeholders. For more information about their programs as well as programs in your area, go to www.farmtoschool.org.

Draft a policy. Having a written policy approved by the school board can be instrumental in sustaining and growing a program. See www.foodsecurity.org for examples.

Adopt a fully integrated nutrition curriculum that connects experiential learning at the farm and in the garden to healthy choices in the lunchroom and improved healthy throughout life. For more information on how to do this and to help create a wellness policy that includes farm to school go to www.ecoliteracy.org

Take a field trip to a farm. Exposing students to a local, working farm is a great way to introduce their local food system. Have the farmer talk about food production and life cycles, and engage students in hands-on farm activities. Go to www.localharvest.org , to find farms near you.

Author's Bio: 

As the oldest of five children growing up on a multi-generational family farm in rural South Carolina, Jennifer developed an early love for natural healthy home grown food. She has carried this passion through out her life, in both her personal life and professional endeavors. For over 25 years, Jennifer has worked in the natural foods business as a chef, educator and consultant. As a chef she has created over 400 recipes and trained both professionals and novices of all ages on vegetarian and natural cooking. As a holistic nutrition specialist and consultant, Jennifer works with natural foods businesses to create training and educational materials.
Jennifer’s love of food and children carries over into her personal life also. She has worked with numerous community organizations to teach nutrition and healthy cooking for adults and children. She is the mother of four and grandmother of three, all healthy happy foodies.