Building Sustainable Agriculture Connections for Ypsilanti Farm to School

Final Report for YENC12-058

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2012: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Manager:
Deborah Weiker
Food System Economic Partnership
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Project Information


Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) will build upon the success of the FoodCorps and Farm to School programs to create sustainable agricultural connections with students at partner schools – Ypsilanti High School and Pierce Middle School in Redford. Michaelle Rehmann, FSEP Farm to Table director, and Jennifer Rusciano, FoodCorps service member, led the initiative. FoodCorps is a nonprofit national service organization that recruits young leaders for a year of service in high-obesity, limited-resource communities of need. Members build and tend school gardens, conduct hands-on nutrition education, and facilitate Farm to School (F2S) programming that brings high quality local food into public schools.

A successful Farm to School program encompasses the three “C’s” of Farm to School – Community, Cafeteria, and Classroom. FSEP’s efforts have primarily focused on local food sourcing for the cafeteria and have only recently begun tackling the “Community” and “Classroom” aspects to develop a comprehensive program. Our partner schools received grants to develop school gardens and Rusciano worked closely with these schools to establish the gardens. FSEP leveraged SARE funding to make the connection with students about sustainable agriculture through experiential educational activities including farmers market and garden tours, farm visits, and a harvest lunch.

The goals of this project were two-fold and interrelated:
1) provide learning experiences for students participating in Farm to School programs that demonstrate real life application of sustainable agriculture practices, and provide opportunities to engage with people who chose agriculture or value-added food production as a career;
2) further the development of comprehensive Farm to School programs at each of the partner schools to go beyond local food sourcing for food service and include classroom and community involvement for the success and sustainability of the programs. While growing the F2S programs was an important outcome, the primary focus of the effort was to engage the students in activities that would educate them about sustainable agriculture and make the connection between growing food, healthy eating habits, sustainable practices and a healthy food system.

PROCESS (PLEASE NOTE: The author of this report was not involved directly with this program and does not have knowledge of the planning effort that went into developing the out-of-classroom activities for these programs. However, from a broader perspective, it has been demonstrated that hands-on learning experiences provide a deeper understanding of a subject and can help to forge the link between academic or book knowledge and practical application/results. That logic was the basis for choosing/coordinating specific hands-on activities, like the farm tours, and field trips to increase students’ knowledge of sustainable agriculture through connecting with farmers and gardeners engaged in these practices.)

Farm to School programming for students at our partner schools included a range of activities from working on the school gardens (building, planting, harvesting, maintaining), becoming involved in after school nutrition programs, cooking and gardening programs, garden clubs, etc., to classroom discussions about agriculture and nutrition as part of the health and science curricula. Many of these activities and supporting resources were supplied by other organizations and stakeholders interested in assisting with and contributing to the Ypsilanti and South Redford Farm to School programs. Some of this programming was new and developed concurrently with the integration of the FSEP project activities, facilitated by our FoodCorps service member, Jen Rusciano. The hands-on learning activities and field trips supported by the FSEP project complemented or expanded on these other facets of the programs.

Planned activities
Activities to expand learning opportunities and experiences for the partner schools’ Farm to School classroom programs were chosen with specific educational expectations. These are described below.

1. Tour the Ypsilanti Farmers’ Market and Ypsilanti Food Cooperative for students at Ypsilanti High School in late spring 2012 and fall 2012.
2. Tour of the Market at the Marquee in the Redford School District (Detroit metro area) for Pierce Middle School students with additional tours planned to larger markets in Detroit.
3. Plan and host tour of urban gardens and farms for partner schools including visits to urban gardens created by Greening of Detroit and Growing Hope (Ypsilanti), and farm visits to the Student Organic Farm at Michigan State University and the Tilian Farm Development Center (Ann Arbor Charter Township).
4. Plan and host Harvest Community Dinners at partner schools during fall 2012. (Due to staffing reductions at FSEP, this activity was not carried out.)

PEOPLE who assisted with the project 

Ypsilanti Community Schools

  • Lakesha Barton, science teacher – led the Ypsilanti Community Schools garden effort. Ypsilanti High School.
  • Connie Shelton, special education teacher – led the Ypsilanti Middle School garden effort; coordinates the in-school and after-school food nutrition and gardening program; member of the Farm to School Collaborative.

Ypsilanti Farm to School Collaborative:

  • Cathy Fitzgerald, University of Michigan Project Healthy Schools
  • Cortney Boes, University of Michigan Project Healthy Schools
  • Christina Barkel, Growing Hope
  • Danielle Gartner, Growing Hope
  • Beth Darnell, PE-Nut (Physical education-nutrition) Project educator

There were many other people involved in this Collaborative, such as the schools’ food service directors, school administrators and teachers, and parents of the children involved in the science/health classes and after-school gardening nutrition program.

South Redford School District – Pierce Middle School

  • Christine Hofer, Principal
  • Mary Schwemmin, teacher

Public Agencies

  • Michigan State University Extension Service
  • Michigan State University - Student Organic Farm

RESULTS (Highlights of partner school programs, examples of project impact on students and development of F2S programming)
The results of our project are difficult to measure by standard methods. There were no tests or written reports by the students describing their experiences and what they got out of the off-site activities. But the students did actively participate in those activities. They visited farmers markets and urban gardens, and the MSU Student Organic Garden. They talked with farmers about the farmers’ lives and how or why they became farmers. They” learned” about growing methods and practices, what influences the weather has on farming, preparing the ground and growing in a field and in hoop houses, harvesting and preparing produce to go to market. The students “learned” about selling produce, dairy products, and value-added products such as jams, salad dressings, salsas, etc. at farmers markets vs. selling to a wholesale distributor. They learned about the “quality” of freshly picked fruits and vegetables and how that differs in taste and nutritional value from processed foods or foods harvested under-ripe and shipped thousands of miles to a grocery store. But the question remains: did the students make the connection between farming, sustainable agriculture and ‘where our food comes from’? Will that knowledge and connection stick with them?

We think the answer is ‘yes’. The students put their new knowledge into practice back at their schools by incorporating organic growing techniques in their school gardens, by participating in cooking classes and preparing meals, learning about nutrition and meal planning that they could take home to their families to improve their eating habits. By learning about food systems and creating new food businesses. Although we use anecdotal evidence to convey those results, we believe our efforts to provide hands-on learning opportunities that augment the developing Farm to School programs at the partner schools in this project were successful in making “the connection” and achieving those goals.

Below is a summary of each of the partner schools’ Farm to School classroom programs and some examples of how what was learned on the field trips was incorporated into various aspects of the programs. Following these summaries are excerpts from a presentation made to the FSEP Board of Directors by our FoodCorps service member Jen Rusciano, which shows in pictures and more richly conveys how involved the students were and the potential longer term impact the project may have.

South Redford Public Schools: FSEP launched a Farm to School program in South Redford Public Schools in early winter of 2012. Jen Rusciano worked with students and teachers to launch an after-school garden club named “TEAM NUTRITION”, focused on students learning about healthy eating, locally grown food and gardening. Together they have built school gardens at the Pierce Middle School and Jefferson Elementary School in spring 2012. To further support their gardening efforts, the club visited the Student Organic Farm at Michigan State University to learn about farming and vermicomposting, and also toured the MSU Dairy Station during the same field trip. Team Nutrition students also visited several urban community gardens in neighboring communities. Back in the “classroom” they learned about plant life cycles, beneficial insects, caring for chickens, and had cooking classes where they learned about basic nutrition, recipe creation and meal planning.

Produce grown in the school gardens was used in their lunch programs and given to the students and their families to use at home, with extra donated to the local food pantry. Additional support for the gardens was provided by The Whole Kids Foundation (Whole Foods), Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, Michigan Farm to School Grant, Home Depot Mini-grant, Michigan State Extension Mini-Grant, Redford Institute, Growing Hope Garden Leadership Training, Master Gardener Programs and donations of seeds, supplies and labor to make the gardens a success.

Additionally, Team Nutrition students have become ambassadors in their school cafeterias and talk to other students about eating healthy and help promote local food days. Students Annastasia and Richard from Pierce Middle School spoke at a School Board meeting saying “The garden is the best place in the whole school! It grows magic out there … If you eat a tomato from the store, it’s okay, but if you pick one from the garden, it tastes like candy. No wait, not candy; it tastes so good like a … a green monster smoothie!” (made with spinach and apple, of course).

Ypsilanti Public Schools: FSEP launched the Farm to School Collaborative to continue developing the Ypsilanti Farm to School program. Members of this collaborative include the school district food service director and facilities manager, public health officials, non-profit community partners, teachers and parents. The group has assisted with the development of school gardens at the middle school and high school, and has worked together to provide training to kitchen staff on knife skills and local food education through farm visits and promoted local food days in the school cafeterias.

The students at Ypsilanti High School and the Ypsilanti Middle School (now called the Ypsilanti Middle School, Willow Run Campus) planted, maintained and harvested produce from the school gardens using sustainable farming methods during the school year. Teachers started a weekly cooking program where students learn basic cooking techniques and nutrition, and at the Middle School they prepare and eat meals utilizing the vegetables harvested from the garden twice a week. Students from the high school Farm to School program attend a garden leadership program sponsored by Growing Hope, and middle school students can take part in the after-school Seed to Plate nutrition program, also sponsored by Growing Hope.

Although the Ypsilanti Middle School F2S program was not specifically included within the scope of our project, it benefited from our work with the program and students at the high school: a high school student chose to help build new garden beds at the middle school to reestablish the school garden classroom as his senior project! (student’s name was unavailable) Teachers at the middle school also comment on how much the students know about the growing food and healthy eating; when asked, the students are able to describe what they are doing in the gardens and cooking class, and why it’s important to them.

Unexpected positive results - Cody High School: During the summer of 2012, FSEP’s Jen Rusciano, worked with 16 students in the city of Detroit to develop new food and farming businesses. Teachers from Cody High School heard about the Farm to School program and the positive feedback from their colleagues at Pierce Middle School and invited FSEP and Jen Rusciano to pilot a summer program at Cody. This project, called the Detroit Youth Food Brigade, was so successful during the summer that it was incorporated that fall into the curriculum for students at Cody’s Detroit Institute of Technology. The summer pilot project connected high school students with food businesses utilizing locally grown foods across the city. Students were responsible for working with their mentors from Detroit’s Eastern Market to identify new products and markets for the food items and sold weekly at neighborhood farmers markets and the Eastern Market. Three new student owned businesses launched at the end of the summer project and continued through the summer of 2013. The Detroit Youth Food Brigade program evolved into the Detroit Food Academy, founded by Jen Rusciano, where she continues to educate young people interested in food systems and agriculture, and becoming food entrepreneurs.

Budgetary notes
Many of the activities proposed for our projects did not cost very much, if anything, due to the proximity of local urban gardens and farmers markets to the schools; students and faculty simply walked to where they were located. As the trips to farms and markets were being planned, it turned out that we did not print out much in the way of handouts or promotional materials as it turned out to be unnecessary. Also, many of the partner organizations supplied printed materials that augmented classroom lessons.

Due to staffing changes within our (FSEP) organization, we did not hold harvest dinners so we did not have expenses for a speaker or need additional supplies for those events. However, we made up for those events by holding harvest lunches during the fall of 2012 where the students and faculty participated in the meal preparation, harvesting most of the produce from the school gardens to use in the meals.

Outreach and sharing results for this project included the following: articles were written and posted in school newletters, the FSEP newsletter, FoodCorps newsletter and local newspapers; blogs or websites were created for the school gardens and nutrition programs at each of the partner schools. Teachers at the partner schools shared experiences and results within school district channels. A video of FoodCorps service member Jen Rusciano speaking about her experience with the Detroit Youth Food Brigade was posted on YouTube. Several of the partner organizations that provided additional resources or support, such as Growing Hope, Michigan State University Extension Service and Master Gardeners Program, University of Michigan Project Healthy Schools, also list or refer to the schools that participated in their programs.

Links to news articles, blogs, videos, newsletters

Ypsilanti Public School District (now called Ypsilanti Community Schools)
Article: “Ypsilanti: YCS garden serves as classroom for students”;
Article: “Ypsilanti: School board tackling local health issues with Farm to School Collaborative”,
Website for Ypsilanti Community Schools High School garden:
Seed to Plate program through Growing Hope:

South Redford Public Schools – Pierce Middle School
Blog for school gardens and Team Nutrition:

Detroit Food Academy (formerly Detroit Youth Food Brigade)
Blog article: “The Detroit Food Academy – Providing Opportunities for Detroit Youth”;

Newsletter articles/updates about FoodCorps work posted on FSEP website (posted August 22, 2013) :

Video clip of Jennifer Rusciano – FoodTalks - FoodCorps:  (NOTE: "google" on Jen Rusciano to find the accessible link if you do not have a YouTube account.)


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Michaelle Rehmann
  • Jennifer Rusciano
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.