Celebrate National Farm to School Month in October

kidsOctober is National Farm to School Month, a time to celebrate connections happening all over the country between schools and local food!

Farm to school enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education settings. Students gain access to healthy, local foods as well as educational opportunities such as school gardens, cooking lessons, and farm field trips.

Over the past decade, the farm to school movement has exploded across the United States, reaching millions of students in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Farm to school is an important tool in the fight against childhood obesity and food insecurity. In addition to improving child health, when schools buy local, they create new markets for local and regional farmers and contribute to vibrant communities, a win-win-win scenario!

Farm to School – Across the Nation

In March, the USDA released the results of its 2015 Farm to School Census, and the results are exciting!

  • In 2015 approximately 42,587 schools across the United States actively participated in Farm to School programs, reaching 23.6 million students nationwide.
  • During the 2013-2014 school year, participating schools purchased $789 million worth of local products from food producers – farmers, ranchers, and even fishermen!
  • 54% of the 5,254 school districts surveyed reported having at least one edible school garden. (In the 2013-14 school year, they reported 7,101 active school gardens providing fresh food and education opportunities!)


Farm to School – What’s happening in Missouri?

  • According to the 2015 Missouri Farm to School Survey, at least 911 schools (143 school districts or private schools) used locally grown food in school meals or snacks during the 2014-2015 school year, with the average school district spending 3% of their budget on local products.
  • In the 2009-10 school year, the most popular locally grown items purchased in Missouri Farm to School programs were apples, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.
  • The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 authorized and provided funding to the USDA to establish a Farm to School Program to provide grants and technical assistance in implementing farm to school programs to improve access to local foods in eligible schools.
  • In 2016 the School District of Springfield R-12  was awarded just over $90,000 to increase student access to locally sourced produce and expand food and nutrition education by the USDA.


Farm to School – What’s happening in STL?

  • In 2016, the Ferguson-Florissant School District was awarded $91,500 to partner with St. Louis University and local farms to integrate and expand its farm to school program.
  • Gateway Greening currently supports 65 school gardens across 19 school districts in St. Louis. 25 of those school gardens are at St. Louis Public Schools! Over 600 teachers across the region use these gardens as outdoor laboratories, serving 12,000 students.
  • Gateway Greening youth educators are working with 300 students each week in their school gardens as part of the Seed to STEM program. These students will be out having a Farm to School Harvest Party in October!
  • Fifteen youth participated in Gateway Greening’s teen employment program, Dig It STL, on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm this summer. 45 additional youth participated in other Youth Conservation Corps programs at YCC member organizations, including EarthDance and Seeds of Hope Farms. These students learned about soil, plant science, nutrition and teamwork while fully engaging in the work of the farm from planting to harvest to selling at North City Farmers’ Market… and weeding, lots and lots of weeding.


The 2016 National Farm to School Month theme, One Small Step, will highlight the simple ways anyone can get informed, get involved and take action to advance farm to school in their own communities and across the country. Join the celebrations by signing the One Small Step pledge and take one small step to support healthy kids, thriving farmers and vibrant communities this October.

Whether you are a food service professional, a farmer, a teacher or a food-loving family, there are plenty of ways to celebrate and get involved in National Farm to School Month! The National Farm to School Network offers a variety of free resources on its website, www.farmtoschool.org, including posters, stickers and a communications toolkit.

Learn more about National Farm to School Month, how you can get involved, and sign the pledge by visiting www.farmtoschool.org.

September Teacher Spotlight: “Let’s Get Dirty!”

We want to highlight Nina Warren, a kindergarten teacher at Clay Elementary whose class has been a part of our Seed to STEM progam for several years. Ms. Warren is passionate about getting kids in the dirt, and after you read her interview, you will be too.

Nina Warren with students in Clay Elementary School Garden 02

What’s your favorite story from taking your class out to the garden?

Nina Warren: “One of my favorite stories is teaching kids about trees. They have life like we do, and they don’t like to be poked and prodded just like we don’t like to be poked and prodded. They need love and care just like we do.

“One day, we were in the garden sitting in the grass, and the kids were pulling all the grass out and they brought it inside. When we got in, the grass was all shriveled and brown, and they were asking me, “Ms Warren, why is the grass dead??” We talked about how plants are alive, and if we pull them out of where they’re growing, the plants die.  That’s something kids need to know.”


What is the biggest impact of taking your students outside to the garden?

Nina Warren: “Monday! Monday was the biggest impact. They were so excited about the peas that they planted in the ground. They remembered actually putting their fingers in the ground for those peas, and when they pulled [the peas] off, they said, “We planted these, Ms. Warren! We planted these! This is what we did!” and I was like, “I know! I know!”

“Bria doesn’t like peas, but the fact we planted them was the only reason why she ate them. These are the things we planted a while back, and now they’re grown. If more parents had gardens in their backyards, maybe more of our children would eat fruits and vegetables.

“The peas were one of the best things. I took pictures of it because it was so amazing. It made it all worth it. This is what the garden is all about. “


What do teachers need the most to be successful in the garden?

Nina Warren: “[Teachers are] so busy with all the other stuff we have going on, what will happen is we’ll be like, “We’ll just skip garden today, there’s so much stuff to do and we just don’t have time.” Because you left [the class some garden curriculum], I could read the plan and know what to expect when the students are out there. Knowing there is a plan in place beforehand so there’s not so much prep work for us, we can allow the kids to go out there and have the a lesson and then let them go out and explore nature.


What’s your favorite thing to plant or watch grow?

Nina Warren: My favorite thing to watch grow are the snap peas, because lettuce just looks like grass but the peas really do change and grow. We put a lot of work into growing those peas—we put our fingers in the dirt to plant the seeds, we put sticks in the ground for the trellises, we put the yarn around the sticks for the peas to climb, and they grew up them, and then all of a sudden the peas came out of nowhere. Kids look for detail, and the peas had lots of details to observe as they grew.

Nina Warren with students in Clay Elementary School Garden 01

What advice would you give teachers who want to bring their classes outdoors?

Nina Warren: “If kids find things, allow them to explore. Don’t let them know if you’re afraid. If you’re afraid, they’ll be afraid. At recess a few weeks ago, one of my students found a huge hairy black spider. She wasn’t afraid- she was playing with it, letting it crawl up and down her arms, showing the other kids. I was terrified but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want her to be afraid.

“I think women especially tend to say, “Ew, kill that bug, get it off me, I don’t want to get dirty and I don’t want my kids to come home dirty.” Well guess what? Kids are supposed to be dirty! They’re children. Otherwise, what’s the point? If they’re dirty, that means they are touching, feeling, and experiencing the world around them.

“I have parents who send their kids to school in sandals. I tell them, “Sandals aren’t made for school. They need shoes they can explore and get dirty in.” We’re too busy trying to stay clean—let’s get dirty!”