Erin Baumann, FoodCorps Service Member, for the Glen Arbor Sun
“And plants need love too!” These words came out of a first grader’s mouth last fall at Suttons Bay Elementary School during a lesson on what a plant needs. In addition to the sun, soil, water, and air that plants need to survive, this student was insistent on the fact that plants also need love.
After a year of service with FoodCorps, a national nonprofit that connects kids to healthy food in school, I’m fully convinced that not only do students need the essential blocks of healthy eating, they need care and respect from adults to nurture healthy lifestyles, in the same way that plants need love.
I am a FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member at Suttons Bay Elementary School. Locally, I am partnered with Michigan State University Extension in Grand Traverse County. FoodCorps has partnered with a number of eligible schools in the region for the last eight years, the longest partnership being with Traverse Heights Elementary School. Last year, FoodCorps re-initiated its partnership with Suttons Bay Public Schools after a hiatus of seven years.
“We need to get these kids to eat well,” said Linda Caswell, Suttons Bay’s assistant director of food services. “It’s important for them to be alert in school and to have the energy they need. It helps their development and their bodies.”
FoodCorps recognizes that healthy eating is important for students, not only for their physical health, but also for their educational success. However, simply telling students that they should eat well does not result in healthier students. Students in low-income areas often face food insecurity. They don’t know where their next meal may come from, let alone if it will be a healthy option. Fifty-seven percent of students enrolled in Suttons Bay Elementary School last year were considered economically disadvantaged and qualified for free and reduced-price meals. In Michigan a family of four that makes less than $32,630 per year qualifies for the program.
FoodCorps service members focus on hands-on gardening and food education, healthy school meals, and a school-wide culture of health to approach student health and their relationship with food at three different levels. At Suttons Bay Elementary School last year, this translated to more than 10 hours of direct, hands-on learning opportunities in three grade levels, 10 school-wide taste tests, and 10 fruit trees being planted by students.
A major success during the last school year occurred during National Farm to School Month in October. On the day of the annual Michigan Apple Crunch, featuring apples grown locally at Bardenhagen Farms, every elementary student crunched into an apple at the same time. One student declared, “these apples are so much better than (apples from) the cafeteria!”