FoodCorps is a proud partner of the Maine School Garden Network. FoodCorps is a national non-profit serving in 13 states (Maine is one of the original five). We believe every child, in every school, should experience the joy and power of food. We partner with schools and communities to nourish kids’ health, education, and sense of belonging. This partnership takes many forms but the most common includes direct service.
As part of the Americorps Service Network, FoodCorps’ efforts center on our service members. We enter into multi-year partnerships with school districts and place service members directly in elementary schools, full-time, for an 11-month service term from August to July each year. In these schools our Food Education Service Members (FESM) focus on our Three Areas of Service: Hands-on Learning, Healthy School Meals, and Schoolwide Culture of Health.
Hands-on Learning takes the shape of curricula and lessons in the school garden and classroom including everything from planting seeds to cooking and eating to composting, and everything in between. Service members partner with teachers who understand the value of experiential learning and what it can bring to the subjects, units, and curriculum teachers are already using. For instance, for some kiddos you can explain how to calculate area and volume at the chalkboard until you’re blue in the face and they cannot conceptualize it. But, when those same students are out in the garden with a service member who can set up the school’s raised beds with square foot gardening grids, those same kids will instantly understand and be able to calculate area and volume. We use a lesson about making and enjoying a fruit salad to teach kids fractions, measuring, and teamwork without ever explicitly talking about those things as ‘part of the lesson’.
Healthy school meals focuses on the cafeteria. We want more kids participating in school meal programs. We also want to help school nutrition staff improve what is on those trays. We look to partner with schools that are interested in more scratch cooking, more local ingredients, putting things from the school garden on the salad bar, etc. We also have a new type of service member that focuses exclusively on the school nutrition department. These are School Nutrition Service Members (SNSM). They work directly in the kitchens and cafeteria to improve participation, diversify meal options, connect with local farmers, lead cooking/food lessons tied to cafeteria programming, etc.
Finally, all service members focus on our third area of service, Schoolwide Culture of Health. Ultimately, this area of service is a recognition that FoodCorps is not a permanent solution or fixture in any one school or district. We help the schools that invite us to partnership by building infrastructure and culture around school gardens and healthy food. Then we move onto another school/community. When we leave, we don’t want all the progress your school has made to stop. Schoolwide Culture of Health is about ensuring the entire staff, the students, and the larger community, understand, and support the type of learning and nutrition programs you are building with our help. That way, when it is time for your school to graduate from FoodCorps partnership, the community is not only willing, but insists on continuing to invest in experiential learning, local and scratch cooked food, and all the benefits that come with them.
Over the years, we’ve seen these benefits in every place we’ve been. Reduced behavior issues and referrals, kids can focus better when they are in the classroom, higher participation in meal programs, FoodCorps kids are 3 times more likely to choose fresh fruits and vegetables, increased investment from local business owners and the community. The list goes on.
If this sounds like something your school district would like to explore, you can reach out to Ryan Parker, FoodCorps Impact and Partnerships Lead, Maine at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are currently looking to add 2-3 new partners beginning next school year. The groundwork for that begins in January and February of this year so reach out soon!