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Early snowfall doesn't stop this Great Lakes Region school from getting involved!

Changing Habits – Farm to School Month

Early snowfall doesn't stop this Great Lakes Region school from getting involved!

Early snowfall doesn’t stop this Great Lakes Region school from getting involved!

What do kids know about food? A lot more, these days, thanks to Farm to School Programs. Educators nationwide are helping young people to break free of the kids’ menu mentality. No more chicken fingers, fries and fish sticks – we’re talking real, garden-fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, farm to table style. It’s National Farm to School Month, everybody!

Changing Habits

Americans love to eat! It’s undeniable. Just stroll through the aisles of any grocery store and take in the view. The myriad of options is telling of our food obsession. Unfortunately, many of the items also reveal a simultaneous misunderstanding of what real food actually is. Here’s a definition, courtesy of Dictionary.com, to get us started:

food [noun]: any nourishing substance that is eaten, drunk, or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, promote growth, etc.

Simple, right? Maybe not. Because many of the choices Americans make fulfill none of these basic criteria. We’re not naming names, but here’s a hint: If it’s neon orange and leaves a sticky film on your fingers of the same color, it does the opposite of create energy – it zaps it. Which can eventually contribute to this staggering statistic:

More than one-third of adults in the USA are obese.

That’s no joke. So, where does the disconnect begin? And why are so many families dealing with obesity in both children and parents?…

It’s all about habits.

Consider these lines from MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine:

“For many people, changing eating habits is very hard…You may have had certain eating habits for so long that you do not realize they are unhealthy. Or, your habits have become part of your daily life, so you don’t think much about them.”

This is where Farm to School Programs come in. Getting American kids on the right nutrition track early in life means less bad habits to bust later on.

This little gardening tyke is well on her way to a healthy understanding of where food comes from.

You can start big or small – try seed and herb growing kits for an easy start!

A Healthier Next Generation

Remember that overwhelming grocery store aisle we were talking about earlier? The idea is to give kids the tools necessary to make smart, nutritious meal decisions while bypassing the neon orange stuff. Education and community outreach is the essence of Farm to School Month and the movement overall.

Each region is different, and both public and private schools are encouraged to build out initiatives that make sense for their students, teachers, districts and communities as whole. This can include everything from student-tended gardens and visits from local growers, to fieldtrips to the farmer’s market and crafting school lunches around seasonal ingredients. This allows children to create an up-close-and-personal relationship with the food they eat, empowering them to make informed, healthful decisions.

The easiest way to start a garden at home is with raised planter boxes like these.

The easiest way to start growing your garden at home is with raised planter boxes with liners.

Food-Smart Kids for Food-Smart Communities

Children take what they learn home with them. Parents and teachers see it every day. Remember when your first-grader demonstrated how to take a sip of milk and shoot it out of their nose? Let’s make sure that same 7-year-old knows their milk bubbles came from healthy, hormone-free cows at a local dairy (or at least from a cow!). That’s the sort of knowledge that rolls up to siblings, parents, and then families and communities as a whole. It feeds young bodies and minds while bolstering local economies and the environment.

Want to get involved in Farm to School Month from home?

Make your yard, patio or balcony an extension of the food knowledge your kids are gaining in class. Container gardening on any scale is a great lesson in growing herbs and other edibles. For small spaces try window boxes and railing planters. If you have a yard, traditional ground beds are great, or try raised garden plots to grow and harvest fruits and veggies right outside your back door.

Photo: FarmToSchool