Final report for YENC21-160
Community Food Initiatives (CFI), whose mission is to ensure a healthy and equitable food system in Appalachian Ohio, teaches hands-on gardening curriculum, Sprouts. The curriculum, matched to state standards, teaches gardening, sustainability, local food systems, and more. If funded, the program would expand to include virtual “field trips” to local farms and “meet the farmer” lessons, allowing students the opportunity to learn from farmers practicing sustainable agriculture to further understanding, interest, and participation in sustainable farming practices. When it is deemed safe, this project would shift to visits from farmers as well as a field trip to a local farm.
- Provide students with learning opportunities in sustainable agriculture and the environment through Sprouts curriculum twice/month either in school gardens or through a virtual format.
- Introduce students to farming career opportunities and sustainable agriculture practices through school visits from farmers and/or through and “virtual meet the farmer” lessons.
- Reinforce sustainable agriculture knowledge, career opportunities, and local food system knowledge through “virtual field trips” and/or a field trip to a local farm.
- Build more connections between healthy bodies and healthy foods through Sprouts curriculum.
- Engage students’ creativity through art projects connected to agriculture, the garden, and the environment.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Between March and May, we created 4 unique educational videos that were sent home to students and their families using distance learning during COVID. These videos included virtual "farm tours" as well as teaching sustainable agricultural practices such as composting, vermiculure, and gardening. Additionally, we were able to host in-person Sprouts lessons at the Amesville Elementary school garden in the spring 2021 and successfully completed an end of the year assessment of our programming.
During the summer of 2021, we were able to engage 18 volunteers to assist with school garden maintenance, incentivizing them with farmers market gift certificates supported by this SARE Youth Educator Grant (see this Market bucks insert that accompanied each gift certificate). This ensured the gardens would be in good condition for the students to come back to at the beginning of the next academic year as well as provided food to food-insecure families throughout the community. The summertime was planning time for our team, as well as developing and implementing pre-tests to go out to parents, students, and teachers at the start of the school year.
We were able to be in-person with all 10 first grade classrooms across 2 districts September-Dec 2021. In-person Sprouts classes brought hands-on activities both in school gardens and in the classrooms, introducing important concepts and building enthusiasm for growing food in an environmentally friendly way. We were able to bring in Ronda Clark, of Blackberry Sage Farm, to the Amesville Elementary where she presented to the students all about her growing of loofahs, seed collection, pollinators, and "what it's like to be a farmer." Additionally, we gathered footage for the next series of "virtual field trips," to be edited soon and shared with students then released to their families in winter 2022. Finally, we sent home a mid-year newsletter, including a list of program sponsors, home to 185 families mid-December.
From January-May 2022, we were able to continue with in-person Sprouts lessons across 2 districts, building upon relationships and knowledge started previously this academic year. With each lesson, a "fact sheet" (often containing a summary of what we discussed as well as some coloring options for this young age, see these examples: Apple Fun Facts and Pollinator Fun Fact Sheet) is sent home to families to help facilitate discussion as to what all the children are learning during their gardening lessons, as well as opportunities of how families might get involved. Into all 10 classrooms we were able to bring Ana Leon, a native Ecuadorian farmer, who spoke to the differences between farming in Ecuador versus farming in Ohio, as well as Chris Monday, of Veggie Vision Farms. Chris answered questions from students centered on what it is like to be a farmer, and designed his lesson around beet farming. Chris delved into when, how, and why, and showed the classes how to make "ink" made from beet dye. He also led the children in an art activity using beet ink as a watercolor paint (see a few art examples here, here and here).
In mid 2022, we released a series of 4 "virtual field trips," each featuring a local farmer giving a tour of their land/business. Teachers reported students thoroughly enjoyed seeing different farms around Athens County and they appreciated having these videos to pull out on "rainy days" when they couldn't be outside.
Links to videos: Salt Creek Farm: https://youtu.be/7sD5-5u3gOc, Solid Ground Farm: https://youtu.be/7vbKhzlV2Yo , Blackberry Sage Farm: https://youtu.be/TueZ9vUN7YI, and Companion Plants: https://youtu.be/rkQxGfsYctk
May 2022 featured our first "Sprouts Farm Field Trips," in which almost 200 local students spent the day outside on local farms. Each field trip day offered students the incredible opportunity to rotate through a series of different activities that engaged them in different ways. They planted marigolds, made native wildflower seed balls using freshly harvested Ohio clay, hunted for pollinators, inventoried pond life, tested their coordination and spirit with a farm obstacle course, made fruit kabobs, crafted their own seed packets, and used their whole self to engage with our natural world on a real-life working farm. All the while with real-life farmers (another here) there to show and tell them all about what it's like to be a "real" farmer these days. Each student enjoyed local apple snacks and was able to take a plant and a seed packets home with them.
An end of the academic year, newsletters went home to all families, (see this example Edited Amesville EOY newsletter 2022.), and we also sent home surveys to families and teachers to assess our programming in order to improve next year's curriculum. In collaboration with 2 school PTOs, we were able to help host "End of the Year Garden Parties" at 2 Elementary School Gardens. We purchased bulk seeds that the students split up into hand-decorated packets to sell as a fundraiser for future garden expenses. We also provided local snacks for the parties, multiple garden-related craft activities, as well as printed, take-home information about Sprouts programming and how families can get involved in the future and during the summer months. In addition to high numbers of students coming from the first grade classrooms where we do consistent programming, families from preK-3rd grades were invited and there were more than 70 people present at each party, all showing enthusiasm for our work and the importance of healthy gardens/ healthy body connections.
Data shows that 108 students reported a slight increase in their ability to recognize and show interest in some local food crops. It should be noted that evaluation at this young age is hard to do formally/survey based, thus we’re combining analysis of their drawing/writing, what they’re directly telling us, along with Sprouts and teacher observations and parent feedback.
Post-project surveys asked parents and teachers to indicate the degree to which they saw Sprouts increase the following knowledge, attitudes, or skills in participating youth:
Interested in trying new fruits and vegetables. - 60% reported “somewhat” or “strongly”
Knowledge of agriculture (“knowing where food comes from.”) - 100% reported “somewhat” or “strongly”
Cares about the environment. - 93% reported “somewhat” or “strongly”
Knows basic gardening skills. - 67% reported “somewhat or strongly”
Youth talk about gardening and agriculture at home. - 93% of families reported that students sometimes or regularly talked at home about what they learned at Sprouts.
Youth eat a greater variety of foods. - 71% of families reported that their student ate a greater variety of foods after participating in Sprouts.
Overall, 93% of participating families rated Sprouts “good” or “excellent” on post program surveys.
100% of teachers in participating classrooms selected the highest possible rating (5 out of 5) to describe the level of increase in general gardening and plant/food related knowledge in their students as a result of participating in Sprouts. 100% of teachers we worked with also reported they would like this programming to continue next year.
Working with young students, Sprouts uses a variety of evaluation data from teachers, parents, and students to understand program impact. Students complete some written surveys, and we also collect written and drawn materials that allow students to use their creativity and express the personal and emotional impact of activities. We analyze this data in context along with observation and feedback from families, classroom teachers, and education professionals.
In addition to affirming that parents, teachers, and kids all value and enjoy the Sprouts lessons, evaluations indicate that our project was successful in achieving the stated objectives of providing students with learning opportunities that increased their knowledge of sustainable agriculture and the environment. We connected students with local farms and farmers, reinforced local food system knowledge through virtual and in person field trips, increased students interest in healthy foods, and engaged students’ creativity.
In open-ended responses on parent surveys, the most impactful aspect of the program seemed to be getting students out into the garden to work directly with plants; 67% of respondents named this as what their child enjoyed the most. Learning, art projects, and the Sprouts presenters were a;sp named as highlights.
Parent responses most often named increased knowledge about agriculture and the process of growing food when asked what their children learned from the program; one parent explained that Sprouts helped their child understand the “Process from seed to the table.” Another said that after participating in Sprouts, their student understood that, “It is fun and not hard” to participate in the process of growing food.
The success of Sprouts over the past two years has helped re-orient Community Food Initiatives (CFI) to focus more on educational programming and partnering with farmers and other sustainable agriculture experts with a higher level of consistency and intention. As a result, CFI is also having more conversations about the value of both school and community gardens as an agricultural teaching space. We’re finding new opportunities to build hands-on outdoor activities with an educational focus and into our programs, including working with a drop in youth center this summer to facilitate a youth garden club, reaching out to engage more young people in community workshops and volunteer days, and hosting high school interns through a partnership with Rural Action, another area organization that works on sustainable agriculture. CFI is also a partner on a project with Rural Action funded through USDA NIFA FASLP that will support us to expand Sprouts experiential education activities and work with additional grade levels over the next two years, including a school garden curriculum toolkit, educators can download from our website: https://communityfoodinitiatives.org/programs/school-gardens.html.
CFI is currently in a strategic planning process, goals of which include shifting job responsibilities among existing staff and seeking out new funding to create more capacity for education and gardening programs.
A parent from Southeast Ohio reported: “My son has sensory processing disorder, so food is really hard for him. He has been willing to touch and smell new foods because of Sprouts, that’s a huge accomplishment for him.”
A first grade teacher at the end of the school year expressed her support for the program: “It was wonderful having you in our classrooms this year. The students always looked forward to Sprouts days and you were always very focused, prepared, and student centered. Thank you for your time and efforts!"
Our work on building a curriculum for early elementary students also sparked interest from other teachers in the school system. The CFI team piloted a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) focused “healthy food access” school garden curriculum with a group of 6th grade students who participate in the district’s gifted program. Students delved deeper into garden-related education by extracting DNA from strawberries, creating local field guides, experimenting with compost & vermiculture, and designing and painting wooden boards that will be used to build additional raised beds in new elementary garden spaces.
Thank you for your support of our programming. And also to Joan Benjamin, who consistently answered our grant-related questions in a timely and informative manner.