In two years, FoodCorps service member transformed two Arkansas schools

By Brittany Ransom, Special to the Press Argus-Courier

Countless seeds have been planted and produce harvested since Mary Grace Stoneking arrived in Van Buren two years ago.

Assigned as the first-ever FoodCorps representative to the Van Buren School District, Stoneking’s arrival signaled a shift in the way VBSD approached nutrition education and ushered in a new way of thinking about food and its origins for Van Buren students.

Stoneking came to VBSD in the summer of 2016 after King and Tate Elementary schools were selected for FoodCorps, a national initiative designed to connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. Implemented by AmeriCorps, the program partners with local schools and organizations to engage children and help give them knowledge about, and access to, nutritious foods.

“When we applied and received a FoodCorps service member, we didn’t fully know what to expect,” said VBSD Activities Administrator Drew Cone. “We were hoping for some gardens and extra support educating students about nutrition and the reasons why it is important.”

Cone said the district quickly realized that Stoneking had an even greater vision for the program. Her passion for nutrition and access to healthy foods led her to become a part of FoodCorps and have served as the driving factors in her work.

The North Carolina native took part in an urban gardening program while in college and worked on farms during her summers. Upon graduating with a degree in philosophy, she decided to do something that would enable her to promote healthy living and impact social change.

“Food was a way to tie in all those issues for me,” she said.