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Meet Tennessee’s New “Farm to School Specialist”

The Tennessee Department of Education has recently added the “Farm to School Specialist” position.  We got a chance to ask Rachel Head about this new role and why it is essential for our state.

Please introduce yourself.  Tell us what a “Farm to School Specialist” is and describe the main goals you are trying to accomplish in this position.  Why is this role important for our state?

As the Farm to School Specialist, my main goal is to help School Nutrition Supervisors find ways to increase the amount of local foods served to students through their school nutrition programs. This involves getting them connected to sources of local products, such as farmers, food hubs, distributors that carry local products, and school gardens, farms and greenhouses.

The Farm to School Specialist role is important because connecting students to agriculture and an understanding of their food is crucial to their success. My position was created in hopes that farm to school efforts can be boosted and promoted through coordination, providing resources, and pooling efforts of similar organizations.

What are some ways schools could incorporate locally grown food into school meals?

Here are a few simple and approachable options that are great for schools who are looking to start out small with farm to school.

  • Gardens: Schools can harvest foods from school or community-based gardens, then promote and feature them on the menu and in the cafeteria. Getting students involved in growing the foods for cafeterias is a win-win for school nutrition supervisors and students.
  • Ingredient substitution: Trading out ingredients in commonly-used recipes with local ones when they are available is an excellent way to incorporate local foods without having to change menus or create new recipes.
  • Taste tests: Cafeterias can feature local items during cafeteria taste tests, during which students are offered a sample portion of a dish or item.

As a former classroom teacher, my students and I would harvest the school garden and take our bounty to the classroom where I led students through cooking lessons, all while incorporating STEM education.

Describe how students and parents are impacted by participating in growing their own produce?

Some research-based benefits of gardening for health and lifestyle are an increased sense of food security, positive diet changes, and increased knowledge about agriculture and locations of area farmer’s markets for families.  For students, we see improved eating behaviors, including choosing healthier options in the cafeteria, increased fruit and vegetable consumption, and increased willingness to try new foods.

Educational benefits show enhanced overall academic achievement for students, including higher standardized test scores.  As well as, increased knowledge and awareness about gardening, agriculture, healthy eating, local foods and seasonality.  We also see an improvement in life skills, self-esteem, social skills, and behavior.

Are there resources available for teachers who don’t know exactly where to begin?

 How could someone reach you if they wanted more information?

To speak about the impact of students starting and maintaining a garden, please send an email with your questions to Rachel.E.Head@tn.gov.   I would be glad to put you in contact with school representatives and leaders that can discuss the impact gardens have on students, schools, and the community.

 

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