Successful Practices From Farm To School

By: Felix Pan

Where does our food come from? As a child, I knew that my food came from my home’s kitchen and the school cafeteria. I didn’t know the true origin of the food. But how did the food get into these locations? Surely, it wasn’t growing in the kitchen or behind the cafeteria doors. At the time, the answer to this was beyond me. Thanks to the Farm to School program, children can now learn the answer to this question. Recently, I had the opportunity to rotate at Frederick County Farm to School for two weeks. During that time, I learned about the essentials for program planning and evaluation, created educational materials for children, and practiced fostering in-person and virtual relationships.

The Farm to School Network is a grassroots national program that aims to improve the health and wellbeing of children and communities by increasing access to locally grown foods and curating nutrition education resources.  There are many Farm to School programs at the local level, including the one in Frederick County Maryland. Initially developed as a pilot initiative to increase the consumption of locally grown fruits and vegetables at elementary schools, Frederick County Farm to School has plans to expand and provide such produce to middle and high school students as well. In addition to sourcing locally grown produce for schools, they support school gardens and create food educational resources for children, families, and teachers. By doing so, Frederick County Farm to School strives to provide students access to nutritious, high quality, local foods so they are ready to grow and learn; provide farmers financial opportunities by opening the doors to institutional markets; and strengthen the local community by building community engagement.  

Developing a program is difficult, but careful planning and forethought may ease the process. I was excited to learn about the organizational structure that helped Frederick County Farm to School grow and improve.  Alysia Feuer, the Frederick County Farm to School Program Director, strongly recommends using logic models to do so. A logic model is extremely beneficial for keeping programs on track. Creating a logic model involves recognizing and recording your resources; activities; outcome measures; and expected changes in knowledge, skills, and behavior. One of the most powerful benefits of the logic model is the ability to visualize all the information on a single page. It becomes a modifiable guide to keep program-related decisions and actions mission-oriented. Furthermore, creating an evaluation plan that describes methods of data collection, roles and responsibilities of the team, and timeline of the program are important to assess the impact of the program. When reviewing these outlines, I was able to quickly understand the logistical organization of the program. Using these resources, Frederick County Farm to School is able to continue expanding and working towards its mission.

As part of its mission to educate children, Frederick County Farm to School has recently started its Food Waste Series. I had the pleasure to develop a handout (left) to educate children and their families about home-orientated food preservation methods. As I created my content, I quickly realized that something needed to be changed…but what was it? Stuck, I turned it over for review to Madeleine Reinstein, the Frederick County Farm to School Education Coordinator and a University of Maryland Dietetic Internship graduate. Her changes (right) were simple but powerful. The alignment of the text, emphasis with bolding, and color contrast of text and background all but changed the handout’s delivery entirely.

Infographic 1: First Draft

Infographic 2: Final Draft

What was her secret? She answered, “During my internship, I wanted to spend time improving my design and writing skills. So at every rotation, I asked my preceptor if I could make a nutrition educational handout or infographic. “

Powerful. Formatting text and asking questions are both simple yet powerful actions. A simple, straightforward approach may sometimes be best. This experience was a humble reminder to return to the basics. I strove to use this at my next task: video development. 

In addition to the new Food Waste Series, Frederick County Farm to School’s “Harvest of the Month” series educates children about the locally grown produce served on their school lunch menus. For this, I introduced radishes and turnips by creating an engaging video. This began with a field trip to Pleasant Hill Produce. While seemingly nonchalant, our visit had an important goal: to foster relationships with local farms and learn about how they seed, grow, and harvest local produce. “Relationships are the key to success,” Alysia would say. Human connections and technical outlines enable movements to go above and beyond. When creating my video story, I needed to consider both of these concepts. 

I learned that creating an impactful story requires outlining the purpose of telling it, recognizing the audience, identifying key points of the story, connecting with the audience, determining the intended impact and taking action to make the story come alive. Building a relationship and connecting with the audience through a screen… that’s no small task. To overcome this challenge, I recalled what I had taken away from making the educational handout: return to the basics. One of the most basic connections and instincts we all have is our five senses. I set to work to find ways for the viewers to experience everything about radishes and turnips through the screen. Check out the results below! 

Video: Harvest of The Month: Radishes and Turnips

My experience at Farm to School expanded my understanding of working with a bottom-up approach to improve the food system. I learned about and practiced effective communication with the audience through different media. While doing so, I was reminded that simple and straightforward considerations such as making outlines, asking questions and finding shared interests can establish the foundation for success. I will take this framework with me on my future rotations and practice. I am grateful for this opportunity to learn from and contribute to Frederick County Farm to School’s efforts to provide local foods, support local farms and strengthen the community through education and awareness. 

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