Food Co-ops Dig in to Support Farm to School Programs

By: Co+op
Photo credit: National Farm to School Network

Have you noticed school gardens sprouting up in your community? Teaching kids how to grow vegetables, fruits and flowers encourages healthy eating, offers real-world applications of science concepts from the classroom, builds teamwork and fosters appreciation for our environment. School gardens not only improve kids’ overall academic performance, research shows that they increase kids’ physical activity and reduce screen time. But most importantly, gardening passes that most critical kid test—it’s fun!

These fun and functional school gardens are just one part of the growing farm to school movement that is boosting local economies all across the country by bringing local farmers’ food into school cafeterias. Food co-ops share this vision to grow healthy local kids, farms and economies. That’s why we’ve chosen to partner with National Farm to School Network (NFSN), a non-profit organization that’s expanding farm to school benefits to every community.

Expanding the Benefits of Farm to School to Every Community

Since 2007, NFSN has been working to increase kids’ access to healthy food by linking up schools and early childhood care settings with resources to establish gardens, connect schools with local farmers to source more fruits and vegetables for school lunches, and advocate for national policies that increase funding for farm to school programs. Currently 42% of U.S. schools report having a farm to school program and that number is growing rapidly.

A central component of NFSN’s work is advancing racial and social equity and addressing disparities in access to the benefits of farm to school. They work with partners in all 50 states and have expanded their network to include the U.S. Territories and Native American communities. Research shows that in addition to all of the other benefits of farm to school, these programs increase overall food security and decrease health risks for low income students and students of color.

The Need for Racial Equity in Local Food Systems

Local food systems often reflect many of the same inequities present in the wider U.S. food system — Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) are underrepresented as farm owners and overrepresented as food system laborers. Before COVID-19, nearly 1 in 6 kids were living with hunger, with disproportionate impacts on BIPOC households. Retail outlets and grocers that stock fresh fruits and vegetables are less likely to be located in majority BIPOC communities than their white counterparts, to cite just a few ways in which the food system is inequitable now.

Over the past three years, food co-ops have invested in NFSN’s work to address racial equity with their network, raising funds for their equity learning lab in 2019 and investing in their Call to Action for 100% of communities to hold power in a racially just food system by 2025.

Learn more about building racial equity in local food systems on NFSN’s youtube channel.

Working Together to Grow Healthy Communities

As community-owned grocery stores, food co-ops share the vision of the farm to school movement for their communities. We see a natural connection between supporting farm to school education and our goals to serve our communities and help to build a thriving and equitable local food system.

Just like shopping at the co-op helps to teach kids about where food comes from and how great food tastes when it’s fresh from the farm, school gardens are an invaluable resource for growing healthy communities. Join us in supporting the farm to school movement in your community, the benefits are bountiful!