Creating Partnerships for Health

It takes a dedicated team to provide in-depth experience for school children to
learn first-hand about food. The Roswell Independent School District’s (RISD)
Student Nutrition program has the support of many partners, including Healthy
Kids Chaves County, Chaves County Cooperative Extension, local growers –
Graves Farms and Nichols Farms – Farm to Table, and the Roswell High School
Ag Department.

Students at RISD enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables daily at breakfast and lunch,
including trips to the fruit and vegetable bar. With help from local growers, the
District provides fresh produce for the 5210 Challenge for third graders and fruit
tasting for the elementary schools. These activities create wonderful opportunities
to teach students about nutrition. In addition, approximately 700 students and
family members attend the annual Fit Family Night, which features locally
purchased fruit.

Kids also get to learn about growing food through farm tours at the Graves Farm,
where they get to pick pumpkins. And Roswell High School Ag teacher, Skyler
Pierce and his students, have gone above and beyond by building raised garden
boxes and drip systems for a number of the elementary schools so the students
can plant and grow vegetables.

Through the state funded New Mexico Grown Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for
School 
Meals (NM Grown Initiative), RISD received $15,000 last year to purchase
locally grown produce. They were able to match that money with $24,000 from
their regular budget for a total of $39,000 used to buy produce from New Mexico
farms. In addition to keeping money in the local economy, the advantage to buying
produce from local farmers is that it is fresher and therefore higher in nutritional
value. Plus, it creates a smaller carbon footprint because the food travels a shorter
distance.

The benefit of this integrated approach to connecting students, farmers and
educators is both short term and long term. In the end, it comes down to one
thing – health – by supporting students to be healthy and supporting a healthy
local economy. In this scenario, everyone benefits.

Sustainability

By: Josh Hodge, La Semilla Food Center Service Member

As my service term heads into the final stretch, I reflect on many things. My service focuses almost entirely on hands on learning, with some elements of healthy school meals. Within this context I want to reflect on the challenges as I see them in implementing the healthy school toolkit at my sites and the challenges I face as a service member. And I will keep it short and sweet: indirect service, that is in this case working with the teachers (or rather giving them the tools, information, curriculum etc.) instead of directly with the students and alongside the teachers is not the long term, more viable option it seems to be.

I say this from my perspective as a service member, and I point that out because our service is a term, it is not indefinite. Constantly from gatherings and conversations with other service I hear members voice their fear, that the work they are doing in their service will be for naught, as teachers change or lose interest, principals transfer, budgets and grants fall through etc. It is something I have struggled with too as my term nears its end: “are the teachers going to be able to continue doing this? Are the gardens going to be taken care of?” etc. I take comfort in the fact that the future in uncertain, but I am confident that the gardens will be used, and that some teachers will find time out of their day to use the gardens, use their curriculums and maintain these spaces. While I do take comfort, there are reasons for concern, as grass overtakes some gardens, fruit trees die and aren’t replaced, irrigation spectrums continue with a mere trickle as they clog with hard water, and a variety of other issues that are wholly dependent on the teachers and staff reporting them to service members and the overseeing organization, should they do so. In the future, how is it sustainable if the organization and service members must continue their presence, to troubleshoot, oversee plantings and maintenance.

With teachers having to work more, for less finding time to work in garden work, and doing work in the garden is something that is hard to do, no matter how much the work may align with standards. I don’t foresee a monumental shift in budgets in New Mexico, nor do I anticipate less time going towards testing which is now almost near a month and a half’s time out of the school year. Is the solution then a shift in the model towards giving the teachers the tools and hoping they can maintain the space, and coordinate with school staff in a self-sustaining model? In some very rare cases I can see this working with some very highly motivated teachers, but I am pessimistic. We are asking too much of the teachers and staff I believe, and it in this model it does a disservice to the service members who want to be involved in this work, not merely setting it up for a path of self-sufficiency in the face of a limited budget, and teachers who are stretched too thin.

What then are we to do? In my case my service site works with schools for a period of 3 years, after that they are supposed to be weaned off, and hopefully can take care of the garden, lead lessons, plant etc. This has not happened yet, and is hypothetical, what is going to happen has yet to be determined. A vision of services being delivered by the service site, in the form of packages is something I foresee, whereby schools can opt for services (paid by the schools) that cover the maintenance and upkeep, the troubleshooting, the plantings etc. Asking schools with budgets that are slashed, teachers who are working in the face of cuts and having to work above and beyond their contract hours, and principals who are faced with so much, to pay for these services seems like a risk, and something that may force them away.

In short the indirect service route which aims for self-sufficiency, goes back to limited direct service at a cost, which if not opted for leaves the schools with what? Hopefully a self-sufficient program, and teachers and staff who can keep up the good work.

Slow Transition to Healthier Food Choices for Low Income Students

By: Anahi Mena-Hernandez, La Semilla Food Center Service Member

At the beginning of the school year, we conducted a study called veggie meter, in which the goal was to measure the amount of vegetable consumption in children from first to fifth grade. At the beginning of the study, it was necessary to ask each student if the previous night they had consumed hot cheetos or “Takis” a chip brand preferred by the children of the paso del norte region, famous for dying fingers because of the high amount of artificial colors they contain. It is not very surprising to discover that most of these children consume takis at least once a week.

Besides being addictive, junk food is more accessible and cheaper, in a small town like Anthony, New Mexico. The healthiest restaurant that you can find is a food chain that sells sandwiches and encourages people  to “eat fresh”. Despite being a farming community, it is impossible to find a restaurant with healthy and affordable choices for its population.

The challenge is not only about healthier options that are accessible, the challenge is also to make families switch their minds regarding healthy food. “It’s too green,” “it looks weird,” “it looks like my little brother’s poo,” are a few of the comments that I’ve heard from students in elementary schools in response to healthier food options.

Of course the ideal would be that all the children were wellness gurus, but this is a reality that is very difficult to achieve. Therefore, the introduction of healthy foods must be gradually and sometimes “disguised” using snacks that are eaten regularly by children (tortilla chips, crackers, biscuits, tortillas). They represent a good vehicle to introduce and/or add vegetables, fruits and healthy spices to student’s diets. Of course, making sure to teach students how to read labels and aim for the brands with the healthiest ingredients options is also important.

In my personal experience, I have noticed that it is easier for a child to try a baked tortilla chip or a piece of crunchy bread with hummus, which is a food that they are already familiar with than to offer the same hummus with a slice of turnip, radish or carrot, making the introduction of a new food less of a challenge and increasing the possibility of making a seamless new addition to their diet.

Gradually through nutrition education and the development of healthy kid friendly recipes, there will be a noticeable change over a medium period of time. The key is more nutrition lessons, perseverance, patience and an open mind in the creation of recipes with greater nutritional value, hoping that in the future all students who were exposed to more hours of healthy cooking lessons and garden education will become wellness gurus.

Family, Feasting, and Farming for the Future

By: Cezanne Sanchez, John Hopkins Center for American Indian Health at Santo Domingo Pueblo

Hello, my name is Cezanne and I am an Edible School Garden Teacher and FoodCorps service member for the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health in Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico. According to KIDSCOUNT.org New Mexico ranks as the 49th worst place for child well-being in America. Factors that are included in this ranking are economic well-being, education, health, and family & community. These statistics are disheartening but don’t do New Mexico justice.

We might be living in extreme drought conditions in the sweltering dry heat of the high desert and lacking many of the fortunate opportunities that our neighboring states are enjoying. But, here in New Mexico we are hands down the richest state when it comes to family, community and cultural heritage. I don’t care what the statistics say. No really, if the well-being of children were measured in units of extended and multigenerational familial involvement, cultural richness, and historical perseverance of families through times of such darkness and inhumanity as Native American genocide, New Mexico’s children would be at the absolute top of the list of the best places to grow up in the US.

Serving with a native population for the past two years as a garden teacher, I have learned so much from my students. Probably more than they have learned from me. At the Santo Domingo Elementary and Middle school students and their families are serious about planting, cooking, feasting, family, and community. Famous for creating art and pottery, the community is also known for their continued commitment to working the fertile lands of the Rio Grande Valley, their ancestral lands for centuries. I am humbled to be a garden teacher amongst the most practiced farming families in this region.

The people at FoodCorps agree that more lessons on planting, cooking, feasting, family, and community are needed more than ever in schools nationwide. Americans are straying from our agrarian heritage and because of this we are experiencing a dislocation from our relationship to food, health, family, and community. Children across the nation are forgetting where their food comes from. Americans are spending increasingly more time away from growing and preparing food and spending less and less time sharing food with loved ones. This disconnection to our food is a reflection of our disconnection to our culture, to our families, and to the roots of our humanity towards our fellow humans. We all need to learn how to work together to create a better food system for the future of our children.

2nd Annual Local Food and Farm to School Awards

Dale Toya is a traditional farmer from Jemez Pueblo who is continuing a way of life despite many barriers. He grows a variety of vegetables. Dale is an advocate for farm training and teaching the younger generation how to grow food by connecting to their core culture. He has developed relationships with organizations, groups and individuals doing similar work throughout Native American tribal communities, which has resulted in the acquisition of a cold tunnel hoop house for the Jemez farming group called Strictly Roots Farm and Greenhouse.

School Gardens: Creating Ideas for Creative Writing & Positive Attitudes Towards Healthy Foods

School Gardens: Creating Ideas for Creative Writing and Positive Attitudes Towards Healthy Foods by Fallon Bader

Wilson Middle school is located in the international district of Albuquerque; a neighborhood with low access and attitudes towards healthy foods. While the neighborhood may lack in fresh, local veggies, Wilson Middle School has taken a different direction. Over the last 5 years a group of ambitious teachers have built a thriving school garden. The garden contains various fruits and vegetables, an edible forest, and even a large pond (with edible plants growing in it!).

One of my tasks as a FoodCorps service member working with Wilson was to integrate more teachers into the school garden. The garden was mainly being used by science classes, but a school garden can serve as a stimulating learning environment for any subject. I was told that the 6th grade language arts teacher was interested in collaborating with me to create some lessons that would combine creative writing and the school garden. I was instantly excited as creative writing was a subject I enjoyed in middle school and it I knew the opportunities were endless.

We first began with using the garden as a space to practice similes and metaphors. After going over the definitions of both, we headed outside to use all 5 senses to inspire ideas for our creative writing. The simple act of the students getting out of the classroom and exploring the beautiful garden created an engaging learning environment.

Rosemary_WordArt_WilsonMS_Blog Fallon_6-2016Another lesson I created was called “Word Art in the Garden”. I had students choose something growing or item they found in the garden (i.e. fence, hole, log). They then had to use their 5 senses to list descriptive words about their chosen object. Then they used these words to create a picture of their item. The students created creative and beautiful artwork that the language arts teacher displayed outside of her classroom.

When you think of middle school poetry combined with nature, what comes to mind? Haikus! Is there a better place to practice writing Haikus than a garden? I had the students circle up outside, read examples of haikus aloud, and then try some vegetables that were growing outside. They had to take notes on what they were trying, and then choose a vegetable to write a haiku about. The students came up with some really creative haikus while trying new foods from the garden at the same time. My personal favorite haiku about edible flowers is pictured below. Even though the student didn’t like what they tried, at least they tried it! Exposure is the first step to getting students to try new foods and creating positive eating behaviors. And sometimes you just have to laugh at what students come up! I most students did like the different vegetables we tried in the garden.

In addition to working with the language arts teacher, I also worked with 6th grade history teacher to create lessons that integrated the school garden as well. This multi-subject collaboration created repeated exposure to healthy foods in an engaging way throughout various subjects. Why is this important? Because most of the students have never tried or aren’t regularly served greens like spinach, arugula, chard, or kale at home. So when they show up in their school lunches, even something as simple as a spinach salad, where does most of that food go? The garbage. But, if we expose the students to these foods in a positive and engaging way, they will be more apt to try and consume them. We need a to create a culture shift where people want to consume healthier foods, and school gardens are an effective tool to do this.

 

Doing Food Justice at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School

By Liz Sims, La Plazita Institute Service Member  Beginning in August 2015, students council members gather twice a week at 6:30 AM for mandatory attendance as the sun rises behind Atrisco Heritage Academy High School (AHA). One team, the student issues group, surveyed their peers about student concerns at the beginning of the year. They discussed student concerns, and worked to address them. Their drive to address issues within the school led them to find that food on campus struck concerns among many within the student population.

Fast forward six months. These students are the odd balls of student council, waking up to practice choreography to Afrika Bambaataa among the massive student council group discussing prom and graduation. Our team took on a new role within student council not only because of their excitement to rehearse their flash mob at dawn, but they were also naming “Food Justice” within the school’s landscape. Our students felt passionate about starting a school-wide conversation regarding health disparities, food access, and to celebrate the often unrecognized abundance of fresh and traditional foods grown here in our own community.

AHA’s first ever “Food Justice Awareness Week” was in the making and swarming with excitement to learn, practice, and organize. Jags for Justice, as we were now calling our team (Go Jaguars!), spent countless hours gaining inspiration and knowledge from national and local farmers and activists. They even took trips after school to check out local farms. The massive chain of Food Justice quickly unraveled to reveal the inherent connections between ancestry, place, culture, water, land, access, and celebration.

Food Justice Week finally arrived. Out of nowhere, Afrika Bambaataa dropped on the loudspeakers in the cafeteria and our dance broke out in between tables of students with their school lunches. Shocked and intrigued, students followed the flash mob outside to find their peers rocking blender bikes and serving fruity spinach smoothies to everyone. Students helped build seed murals, made pollinator seed bombs, and even planted their own seeds to take home. Local farmers hung out to chat with students about growing food and the UNM Health Clinic shared their knowledge about health risks of eating processed foods. We celebrated student artwork by live screen printing our AHA Food Justice logo on t-shirts for students and staff.

The final day of AHA Food Justice gave local experts the opportunity to share their stories and knowledge with students. Our crew hosted a series of Jag Talks (a spinoff of the well-known TedTalks) which allowed teachers to bring their classes to learn from influential speakers from the community, University of New Mexico, and even within Atrisco Heritage itself. Our speakers shared snapshots of cultural history, ways to be involved as youth, and what a food desert even is. Students even learned about entomophagy and aquaponics.

Food Justice was a hit. This student-led event serves as a significant springboard for new ideas to mold food justice within AHA and ground our students’ concerns about access to healthy food in in greater context of understanding. Keep an eye out for more exciting news coming from Jags for Justice at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School.

Promoting Food Sovereignty Through Seed Saving

by Josh Jasso, La Semilla Food Center Service Member 

 

My interest in seed saving is relatively new compared to my interest in growing food – which really seems counter-intuitive. How can you grow food without seed? Why haven’t I been interested or been practicing seed saving and seed conservation throughout my years of growing food? Maybe it’s reflective of my previously transient lifestyle – growing for a season here, working on a farm for a season there, but never spending the required time in a place to appreciate the adaptiveness of a crop to an area. Now, as I find myself doing work that I feel matters and settling down in an area that requires a certain hardiness or adaptiveness of plants to grow well, I am realizing the importance of saving seed to promote the health and adaptability of our food in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Native Seed/SEARCH, a nonprofit seed conservation organization, bi-annually holds an introductory course to seed saving at their conservation center in Tucson, Arizona. The course covers seed saving traditions and the modern seed industry, botany, flowering & pollination, seed biology & germination, basic genetics, planning your garden for quality seed production, wet and dry seed processing methods, and simple seed storage methods.  I was able to attend this workshop as well as an additional, day-long workshop focusing on a more in depth look at creating and maintaining a seed library or seed bank.

The workshop was introductory and drew a diverse crowd of gardeners, educators, nonprofit workers, community workers/organizers, and environmentalists with varying degrees of experience. For some, the lecture based sections of the workshop covering sexual reproduction of plants, pollination, parts of a seed, genus types, and genetics, may have just been a review, but the hands-on portions that involved the wet and dry processing of seed was clearly exciting to all. To create a space in which 20 to 30 adults are all enthused and engaged in the simple and the sometimes tedious actions of threshing and removing the chaff from the seed is no easy task, and the education team at Native Seed/SEARCH can be proud of that. It was in these actions that I learned the most – experiencing the equipment, the varying ways of threshing for different seeds, learning what is most comfortable and practical, and realizing the scale at which I can implement these practices in my work with La Semilla Food Center.

The work La Semilla is doing at the schools in El Paso del Norte region is expanding to incorporate more and more schools; as our program grows it makes sense to me to begin to utilize the accumulating garden space and teacher/student work power to add more dimensions to our program. Next year we will have functional gardens at 20 or so schools. While we already discuss and promote local, regional or culturally relevant foods and the “seed to table” cycle in our curriculum, the idea of saving seeds that are adapted to our environment and make sense ecologically and culturally can only reinforce these notions to the students. I plan on using what I learned at the workshop to introduce seed saving, and eventually a functional seed library, to the schools in La Semilla’s Edible Education program. I want the schools to eat and take pride in what they grow, and eventually share seeds from the crops that do well in their gardens with the other schools – creating both a sense of pride and of community.

Seed saving can be a tricky prospect, especially for some crops, but with a bit of experimenting and practice, I think that this is a project that the schools could take on and get interested in. Especially as schools begin to transition out of our program and become more self-sustaining. Gone would be the need to seek out and pay for an outside source of seeds; gone would be the guesswork that comes with a new variety of seeds and their adaptability to our region. Gone would be the conglomerate seed industry with chiles and melons from Oregon and Vermont, and in their place will be a school and community powered seed library with access to desert adapted, local seeds.

Making an Impact

Emilio Botts, FoodCorps Service member at The Volunteer Center of Grant County & The Guadalupe Montessori School Silver City

When I first joined FoodCorps, I thought like many of us, how I desired to make a difference and help change the world. I saw pictures on the national website of service members putting together workshops, being featured in newspaper articles, or even being interviewed on TV. My ego got the best of me and I couldn’t wait to be recognized for my efforts as a FoodCorps service member. Obviously my motivation for being involved with FoodCorps is my passion for helping youth, sustainable gardening, and teaching kids that food can be grown and is indeed medicine.

I first was notified that I’d be placed in a small town called Silver City, about 4 hours south of Albuquerque. I had never stepped foot in New Mexico, nor had I heard of Silver City. I was warned of rural living and the lack of resources in Silver City, but this I ignored as I was excited to join FoodCorps (and daydreams of Oprah calling me to be interviewed because of the amazing work I am doing entered my mind).

When I arrived in Silver City, I was welcomed to a quaint town, absent a movie theater and shopping malls, but full of charm as well as character; and although missing a Starbucks, containing several amazing coffee shops. I was told that I was to be assigned to Guadalupe Montessori School and if I desired, Jose Barrios Elementary. As I accepted the challenge and still excited to be somewhere new, the realities of my service started to evolve. Rural small towns aren’t like the big urban areas I was used to. The resources and funding aren’t as available, and food justice has a different meaning. I was ready to put my fist in the air and impact Silver City. However, the only direction my fist was moved was to the ground, as I pulled weeds to prep the beds for winter. The question I had to ask myself is what was my agenda for the people and community of Silver City, and what did the town and community need from me? I realized that what I desired to accomplish, and what was actually needed and possible, were not exactly aligned. To me, making change had to do with hosting workshops, getting written up in the paper, and making a little noise every now and then.

Making noise may satisfy the ego, but is it necessary to make an impact? I reflect on my own childhood and how just going to a health food store with my parents, or helping my mother juice carrots contributed to my interest in real food. We are often told the example of a butterfly flapping its wings and influencing a wind pattern half way across the world. I believe that we, as service members are butterflies flapping wings, making an impact that may not be felt directly or for years to come. Although some of us have been interviewed by radio or tv programs, and may have received national recognition, others may be experiencing a quiet service term in a rural town; and it can be difficult to feel like one is making a difference.

When you notice a service member “doing big things” and all you’ve done is pick weeds, and shovel manure, the ego does start to whisper, “Am I doing enough?”  Am I really making a difference?My response is absolutely! The reality is, that just like the butterfly cannot see the chain of events that’s happening as it flaps its wings, nor can we see the immediate impact of our efforts.

As I was working in the garden, a child asked me if this was my profession. He had a look of enlightenment, as I could tell that for the first time he had the idea that he could grow up to do similar work. Maybe just being out in the garden and showing children that there are other options is radical enough. Not all of us will receive recognition for the work that we are doing, to provide the external validation that we are “doing something.” Although we may be alone in a garden for hours prepping beds, swatting away flies, people do notice and our work does matter. We may not be able to see the fruits of our efforts for years to come, but as gardeners we know how to wait, and we should rejoice in knowing that what we do today will affect the wind patterns of the food justice movement tomorrow; that our work is making a difference and an impact.