FoodCorps is growing—expanding the number of states we’ll be working in next year and expanding the number of service members who are creating community and creating change. We created FoodCorps with two goals in mind: Addressing a public health crisis and providing a training opportunity for all of growing interest in careers in food and agriculture. Becoming a FoodCorps service member is a way to launch your career in food and farming while helping kids get healthy.
Rachel is one of 50 future food systems leaders who started their terms of service this past August as the first ever class of FoodCorps service members. So far this year, these service members have reached over 20,000 children in 10 states. They are addressing the nation’s painful and costly childhood obesity epidemic using our three recipe ingredient for change: Hands-on nutrition education, growing and tending school gardens, and getting healthy local food onto school cafeteria trays.
Here is what Rachel had to say about her experience this year:
Being the new “garden lady” at a school in small town is cause enough for conversation. Add in the University of Georgia logos that emblazen the coffee thermos I take to school with me every day, and I stick out even more in the sea of Arkansas Razorback gear that comes standard for most of the students and teachers at my school. Serving for FoodCorps has brought me to the town of Marshall, Arkansas, where I spend my days gardening with students from Marshall middle and elementary schools. The school is a part of the Delta Garden Study, a childhood obesity prevention research project based out of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute.
When teaching outside, it is important for me to begin by getting a grasp on what the day will hold. My morning starts with a garden walk-through and a meeting with my garden program specialist to plan what garden work we will tackle with our classes for the day. Rolling with the punches does not even start to describe the level of flexibility you need as a FoodCorps Service Member. Your greenhouse will flood, grasshoppers will eat your newly planted kale seedlings, and snow might cover your leaf lettuces in less than an hour. Overcoming these and other challenges have proven to be learning experiences for me and my students over the course of my service term.
If a tasting is on the agenda, I collect my cooking supplies and ingredients before the start of classes for the day. The sight of students gathered around a folding table helping to prepare braised greens, salad, pesto, or even corn and squash fritters is a common one in our classes. Hands-on nutrition education is just as important as the act of gardening.
After talking with my supervisor about the activities of the day, we head to our first class. When my school became a part of the Delta Garden Study, they agreed to adopt a garden-based science curriculum for their middle school science courses. Between sixth, seventh, and eight grades, I work with eleven classes of students. My supervisor and I work with our science teachers to strike the balance between in class science instruction and the outside garden and nutrition connections.
As the “garden lady,” I try to help my students think about learning in a different way, and I get to see firsthand the need to devote more time in our school day to discussing topics like healthy eating. Thanks to FoodCorps I have the opportunity to be a part of that dialogue on a daily basis. My service has given me the privilege of being a part of my students’ lives. Every time we work together in the garden, whether it is to plant, harvest, cook, or even winterize our greenhouse, we illustrate to students that food–where it comes from and how you cook it–is central to health.
Sitting in my organic chemistry class during undergrad, I never envisioned that I would soon become an expert in hosing off kids’ boots at the end of muddy garden work session, explaining the nutritional benefits of pesto over the din of my food processor, or reinforcing the concept of density by making balsamic vinaigrette. But at the end of every day, I am astounded at how lucky I am to experience alongside my students the wonderment that comes with growing and cooking food.