The USDA Comes to Town!

Yesterday was one of my proudest moments as a FoodCorps Service Member. USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition & Consumer Services, Kevin Concannon, and his staff made a visit to our school district to learn more about our sustainability efforts and Seed-to-Student programming. The Owl Creek School classroom was full of community partners, district administrators and board members, state and federal leaders, and one uncomfortable-looking produce farmer in a tie. The FPS team presented the many facets of what makes our programs unique and successful. It was a wonderful reminder that none of the local products or food education we bring into our district would be as successful if we didn’t work together and take advantage of the unique assets each partner brings.
photo courtesy of Fayetteville Public Schools
The attendees moved through the cafeteria line anticipating the meal prepared by the district’s chef and food service staff that featured eight products from local producers, the University’s farm, and the Owl Creek School garden. The conversation in line and during lunch highlighted big wins for the district’s Seed to Student program, the benefits and importance of farm to school, and warm fuzzy stories of students enjoying and exploring healthy, local food and school gardens.
Students proudly present their ongoing compost project.
By far the most meaningful part of the afternoon was our time in the garden with the students. Three high school boys presented their bike-powered water cistern pump that brought rainwater from the roof of the school to the plants in our garden. The crowd was all smiles and Mr. Concannon was clearly impressed. Next three student’s from Mrs. Richardson’s 5th grade science class, whom I have been working closely with all school year, told us how they built the compost bin, tended their pile, took measurements, and made observations to reinforce what they learned in class. The story of ecosystems, decomposers, and nutrient cycling came alive for them in their compost piles. They said their favorite part of garden time was planting seeds and harvesting compost from their worm bin. After working with their class for almost a year, no words could have made me feel happier. They are so smart. They are so inspiring. I am so proud.
photo courtesy of Fayetteville Public Schools
We hope that our message was clear, and I think it was. Everyday, I experience first hand how Farm to School programming and garden-based education helps connect classroom lessons to the real world, and supporting local agriculture is crucial to the health of our students and community.  The group took photos and finished up conversations. Mr. Concannon and his staff were very thankful for the afternoon and left with smiles on their faces. We are grateful for their time and know our stories and successes will be shared with important decision makers in Washington D.C.
– by Ally Mrachek