Farm to Fork: Connecting Our Youth with Sustainable Agriculture

Final Report for SW09-401

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $48,988.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Dennis Lamm
Colorado State University
Co-Investigators:
Tisha Casida
That's Natural!
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Project Information

Abstract:

This grant created a replicable curriculum educating 1st through 5th graders about Sustainable Agriculture, Local Producers, How to Eat Local, and How to Grow their Own Food. The goal of the project was to connect the producers with the students, the students to the farm, and the producers’ goods to the classroom/school. We effectively created a curriculum with three producers and three community members, who connected with the students at an after-school program. The curriculum and implementation is replicable for other communities. We also met with educators and community members to further the discussion of a Sustainable Agriculture curriculum.

Project Objectives:

Our team and producers were able to effectively meet our objectives in creating a curriculum for 1st though 5th graders. We developed a total of seven lessons, in the “eyes of the producer” and we implemented these at two “field days” at the Sangre de Cristo Arts center to over 80 students. 

We did not have enough time to coordinate with the producers to get the students out to their farm/ranchland, and we were able to start discussions with the nutrition directors for the school districts in Pueblo County, but were unable to secure relationships between suppliers and producers. The groundwork is laid so that this can be continued at any point.

Introduction:

The subregional conference for Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, brought to light many of the issues affecting sustainable agriculture and the upcoming generations. One of these, as discussed among the participants at the conference, was education, and the fact that most kids going to public schools (as well as private) do not receive any formal education on where their food comes from, how food is produced (i.e. the supply chain), and what sustainable agriculture is.

Often, nutrition is taught, and may very well be a focus of a curriculum or a lunch-program in elementary education, however the food and production system is often not a part of the curriculum (Trexler, Johnson, & Heinze, 2000). For students to really connect with their food and with the people who grow their food (a tenet of sustainable agriculture), it is necessary for these youth to have an education about where their food is from, how it is grown, etc.

Hence, the idea for “Farm-to-Fork” was born. There were and are several similar programs and concepts that we found nationally, on the Internet, however none of these seemed to be creating a model and a program that could be easily re-created and used in any classroom, many of these did not specifically have the producers working with the students, and many of these did not teach about sustainable agriculture.

The participating parties were indentified – the producers, the schools, the teachers, and the students, and after we were funded for the project we began discussions and planning with these participants.

In making contact with teachers from several schools, we were able to identify the most convenient place to test and implement the curriculum that we developed, that was at an after-school program for District 60 (Pueblo, CO) students. Here we were able to connect with over 80 students ranging from 1st grade to 5th grade, we even had a home-schooled student come to the program because they had found our advertisement in the local paper.

Our students not only enjoyed the activities and lessons, we are confidant that they learned quite a bit too. Our final project video can be found at the following URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBHB-LockhU.

References:

Trexler, C.J., Johnson, T., Heinze, K. (2000). Journal of Agriculture Education, 44(1), pp. 30-38.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Research

Materials and methods:

Our design included contacting local sustainable producers to create parts of the curriculum that were applicable to their operation, as well as contacting local elementary school teachers who would be interested in partnering with us to produce and implement the curriculum.

We wanted to showcase several different aspects of sustainable agriculture, these would include:

  • What does the word “sustainable” mean?
  • How do plants grow, and what is the importance of seeds?
  • How do you grow a garden/start a small farm?
  • What are “beneficial insects”
  • What does “pasture-raised” and “grass-fed” really mean?
  • How do you “eat local”?

Each of our producers and/or community members were able to create “talking-points” for these areas of the curriculum. After the talking-points and outline were created, each of the lessons were finalized and edited by Ms. Casida and Ms. Schaub to be in a form that could be reproduced.

Research results and discussion:

The project was a huge success based off of the feedback that we received from the students, as well as from the teachers who were not able to participate this year, but were interested in continuing with the program into the future.

With our initial contact with teachers and producers, we were able to generate more interest in our concept and curriculum, as well as organize lists of names of people who would be interested in participating in the upcoming projects/events.

We also were able to develop community partnerships with another grant-program ran from the City-County Health Department. In future years, we can use these contacts to increase the number of students and families that we reach.

Connecting students with producers is rewarding not only for the students, but also for the producers. These producers are able to see the students in their city and county that are going to be future consumers of their products; the producers are able to talk to and visit with these students and parents, and get an idea of how they may be able to get local produce to these families and our communities.

These activities are all a part of the value-chain of sustainable agriculture, and we were able to meet our objectives and literally “plant the seeds” with many students, educators, producers, and community members, to continue such a program into the future.

Research conclusions:

So far we have twelve additional teachers who are interested in using our work and curriculum in their classroom. The community has also been very receptive and positive with their feedback toward our project and mission, the Community Gardening program, run through a grant and the Pueblo City-County Health Department, are also interested in potentially working with us in the future with our curriculum. In addition to the support we have seem from the community and teachers, our local newspaper, The Pueblo Chieftain has also expressed interest in our project and would be a tremendous media contact for our continued efforts. 

The following is our list of interested teachers to-date:

Mike Schauer, South Mesa Elementary - District # 70
Denise McCraw, Baca Elementary-K-5 # 60
Maureen Carroll, Irving Elementary-4th grade # 60
Mitty Solano, Irving Elementary-3rd grade # 60
Barb Muniz, Freed Middle-Spanish # 60
Jenny Albin, Skyview Middle-6th & 7th grade # 70
Kim O’Connor, Fountain International Magnet-PE # 60
Dawn Johnson, Morton Elementary # 60
Heidi Howard, Bradford Elementary-PE # 60
Tracey Mullis, Minnequa Elementary # 60
Dayna Colarelli, Somerlid Elementary-Kdg. # 60
Linda Robida, Heritage Elementary #60

And here is a list of the community gardens that we may potentially be able to work with in the future, each of the garden projects is at various stages of garden development. The current projects include:

La Familia Community Garden
814 E 5th Street
 Traditional community garden with 17 plots
 2009 was the first full growing season.
 Could use assistance with what to grow or further development of lot

Luv in Action
1044 E Abriendo
 Non-profit that provides clothing and other resources to the public
 Needs help with material and construction of raised beds and growing vegetables.

Peace Garden
El Centro del Quinto Sol Recreation Center
609 N Erie
Assist with educational garden programs with children attending the center and some garden planting/maintenance.

Pueblo Community College
900 W Orman
 School garden
 Needs volunteer assistance with garden planting, maintenance etc.

Washington Children’s Center
401 S Prairie Ave.
 School garden
 In the planning stage and needs assistance with garden development, construction of raised beds and children educational programs

Pueblo West Elementary
386 E Hahns Peak Ave
 School Garden
 In the planning stage and needs assistance with garden development, construction of raised beds and children educational programs

Bessemer Academy
1125 E Routt Ave.
 School Garden
 In the planning stage and needs assistance with garden development, construction of raised or hay bale beds and children educational programs

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

We had a fairly cohesive outreach campaign targeted at our students, their parents, and the community at-large. The campaign entailed:

  • Advertisements in That’s Natural! a bi-monthly magazine circulated to 7,500 readers through small businesses in Southern Colorado.
  • A dedicated article in The Pueblo Chieftain on our program.
  • A “Sustainability Booth” that had information on our program – we had this booth for 12 weeks at the “Loco for Local Evening Farmers’ Market”, as well as at the “Southern Colorado Sustainable Communities’ Conference” in Pueblo, CO.
  • Speaking engagements at the PDP Meeting in Cheyenne, WY in 2009, as well as the Sub-Regional Conference in Visalia, CA.
  • Video created and posted on Youtube.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Food directly impacts the health of children and adults. In a time and a world where many of us resort to fast-food, junk-food, etc, as a nutritious meal, the true nutrition falls short. Changing one’s lifestyle can have impacts on that person’s health. In addition to creating and fostering healthier people, one will effectively stop using money for sickness and disease – this money can be put back into the economy for other more productive reasons. The cost of obesity in the year 2000 was estimated at $117 billion, with $61 billion in direct costs and $56 billion in indirect costs (Wolf & Colditz, as cited in Wellman & Friedberg, 2002). So by making healthier choices (i.e. eating local snacks made of local produce versus French Fries prepared at a fast-food restaurant chain), the impacts on our healthcare industry can be significant.

In addition to the impacts on health, there are multiplier effects that can be witnessed from keeping more money in the local economy by purchasing local producer versus that which has been shipped internationally (and sometimes nationally). Small farms, sometimes called micro-enterprises, can contribute significantly to local economies and future small enterprises (Larson & Shaw, 2001) – educating future consumers about those farmers and producers, while also teaching them that they can start such an enterprise, helps foster sustainable local economic development.

References:

Larson, D.W., Shaw, T.K. (2001). Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship, 6(3), pp. 203-220).

Wellman, N.S., Friedberg B. (2002). Asia Pacific Journal Clinical Nutrition, 11(Suppl), pp. S705-S709.

Farmer Adoption

The producers that we worked with enjoyed the experience of working with the students and being involved with the creation of the curriculum. We are confidant that other sustainable farmers in the area will be willing and excited to work on something like this with schools or after-school programs in their areas.

The process would be relatively simple and minimally time-consuming based upon the organization of the producers and the school-systems. Teachers interested in working with local producers, would take to the producers the curriculum that we have developed, then allow those producers to “tweak” such to fit some of the lessons that they want to teach and connect with the students. Next, a time and location is decided upon to set up “stations” where producers are situated at each station, and the students rotate from producer to producer. Lastly, the parents are given promotional materials about the event, as well as each of the producers participating (so the person making the purchasing decisions knows where they can purchase local food).

The next components to have the farmers/producers work on is securing relationships with teachers who can bring their students out on the land for a field day. Lastly, the farmers/producers need to establish relationships with the purchasing agents of food for these schools to determine what products may be feasible to get into the school system, and what steps are necessary for them to do such. With our experience, we found that first meeting with the nutrition-directors for the school district can lead to answers about what suppliers they use and what prices would be necessary for the local farmers/producers to compete.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

What is most important, after successfully building relationships with producers, teachers, and students, is to work on completing the “value-chain” of activities. We have introduced the producer into the classroom, next we must work on getting the students out to the farm, and lastly, we must work on getting the producers’ food into the school system.

As discussed at several of the meeting engagements where Tisha Casida presented, as well as in printed materials talking about the Farm-to-Fork Project made possible by Western SARE, educating our students and future consumers about the Value Chain of activities is crucial for these future consumers to understand agriculture and what sustainability in agriculture means.

Once these students are able to connect – through a curriculum like we have developed (diretly from the local producers), through going out to the producers’ farms and ranches, and by have these producers’ food in their classroom and at the lunch-table, then we will begin to see upcoming generations more aware of sustainable agriculture. Securing these relationships, all through the value chain (Producer-Supplier-Consumer) will enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of such a program and project.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.