Poking around is a persistent addiction. Though the geography and focus shift with time, exploring new terrain simply expands the possibilities. Thus, in my quest to spread the share the message of open government, I have had the privilege to meet with scores of great people who are doing amazing work on issues that include sustainable agriculture, the rural economy, the environment, children’s health, food safety, family farms, ethnic diversity — always looking for the open government thread that runs through just about everything – once you start looking for it.
All of this poking around reinforces my quest for practical examples of creative approaches to systemic thinking about critical issues – including creative thinking about the confluence of healthy food and sustainable agriculture. Thus my delight at the discovery of a treasure from a somewhat unlikely source – the new Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum recently released by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). It’s fresh, fun and online for all to adapt and apply.
Farm to School offers a promising approach to engaging 11th and 12th graders to build leadership skills by working in partnership with food service staff, farmers and local food sources to re-think their own local food system — to possibly take a hand in forging links between local farmers and the breakfast and lunch programs that both fuel and forge healthy habits in young learners.
The curriculum offers six lessons that may be taught consecutively over a semester or as single lessons or activities to complement other classes. In order to make its way into the classrooms, Farm to School fulfills national and state curriculum requirements. The goals range from promoting children’s health and “food literacy” to “strengthening local economies by expanding markets for small and mid-size agricultural producers and food entrepreneurs whose products have typically been unavailable in school meal programs.”
Erin McKee Van Slooten, who worked on the curriculum design, notes that “despite the rapid growth of Farm to School programs around the country, the legwork of connecting with farmers and sourcing local foods can often be difficult for school staff on top of their day-to-day work. Our curriculum puts that work in students’ hands, while teaching them about their local food scene.”
Labeled a “youth leadership” project, the IATP curriculum is just that. Natasha Mortenson helped construct the curriculum. Reflecting on her experience as an ag educator and FFA advisor at Morris Area High School Mortenson says that her “students have taken ownership of the Farm to School program in our school, and have developed leadership and team building skills as they completed tasks in learning about our local food system and seasonal availability.” The goal, she says, is dual: about implementing Farm to School and about “growing young leaders that understand how to build a program from the ground up.”
The Farm to School Youth Leadership Program was funded by the Center for e Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the John P. and Eleanor R. Yackel Foundation, the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Whatever your memory of or interest in your own experience, your business or your kid’s or grandkid’s school lunch you’ll find the IATP approach a departure from past experience. Forget what was then, take a look at the full package on the IATP website – lots of background, great graphics and tips on promoting the Farm to School concept and curriculum.
As we haggle over nutrition and costs, and wring our hands about how some needy families have been mistreated by the present system, take time to step back, grab a nutritious locally grown snack, and, with the help re-think the whole approach to a tired tradition with which the folks at IATP have had the grit to grapple.
Learn more on the IATP website