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Connecting Kids to Real Food

FoodCorps believes that what children eat is a fundamental building block for health, values and human potential that will shape them for the rest of their lives.  Unfortunately, that simple, fundamental thing, what a child eats, is something that as a nation we have largely chosen to ignore— and our children are now paying the price.

Over the past 30 years, the rate of childhood obesity has tripled.  One in three American children is now overweight or obese. At the same time, one in five children struggle with food insecurity and hunger.  Yet both challenges stem from the same root problem: a need for a healthier and more reliable relationship with food.

What makes the combination of increased obesity and food insecurity truly dangerous is that it discriminates:  it plays into the same disparities of race and class that we’re already working so hard as a nation to overcome.  Children who grow up in low-income neighborhoods, whether urban or rural, are 30% more likely to suffer from obesity. Children of color are 60% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than are white children and 200% more likely to not have enough access to healthy food.

The sad reality is that by failing to provide one fundamental thing – a chance to eat and enjoy real food – we’re holding our most vulnerable kids back from health, opportunity and success.  FoodCorps is embedding emerging leaders into our nation’s most limited-resource schools to change just that.

FoodCorps is a nationwide team of leaders that connects kids to real food and helps them grow up healthy. Working under the direction of state and community partners, our AmeriCorps members dedicate a year of public service to ensuring that children grow up in healthy school food environments:  places where kids learn what real food is and where it comes from – and have access to it everyday in their school meals.

During this process, we are also able to train a new generation of leaders and launch them into lifelong careers of impact across the fields of food, education, the environment and health.

Partners

At the national scale, FoodCorps has a robust and diverse portfolio of funders and partners, including nonprofit partners such as 1% for the Planet and the National Farm to School Network. We receive financial support from AmeriCorps, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Whole Kids Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation, Annie’s Homegrown, Cooking Light, Bob’s Red Mill, Honest Tea, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Organic, among others.

Hands On Education 

Last year, FoodCorps’ 80 corps members taught 67,000 kids in 12 states and 255 high-need schools.  They led nearly 24,000 lessons, including activities like the one described below from one of our FoodCorps members:

“What is this vegetable called?” I ask the kids gathered around the table. I’m holding a leafy, purple vegetable in the air. “Cabbage!” Kory calls out. A few weeks earlier, this answer would have been accompanied by a chorus of groans, “yucks,” and grimaces, but today the class remains engaged and expectant, as if the purple orb in my hand possesses some sort of magical power (in addition to its anti-oxidant properties).
“And what part of the plant is cabbage?” I continue. “Is it a root, a stem…” “Leaves!” shouts Ethan. Now there is a palpable excitement in the air. We go through a rendition of the “plant parts” dance we practiced in our last class before sitting down to commence our salad prep.

Engagement: We build and tend school gardens where kids get to taste the fresh food they’ve grown

Our 80 service members built or revitalized 411 gardens last year, continuously tending more than 13 football fields’ worth of edible green space for schools and communities.  Those gardens produced nearly 30,000 pounds of produce, and whatever wasn’t eaten on-site was donated to families, used in cafeteria taste tests, or incorporated into classroom lessons.  A FoodCorps member in Mississippi described how school gardens are gateways for getting children to try (and learn to love) new foods:

We had a ton of green onions growing, and I didn’t expect the kids to enjoy them at all and had been thinking of ways to put them into recipes that they are familiar with. When one girl asked if she could have a green onion, I gave it to her explaining she may find it a strong flavor. She exclaimed, “dannnnnnng Ms. Winnie, this is the bomb” and before I knew it my whole class was eating green onions right out of the garden bed!

Access: We change what’s on children’s lunch trays, giving them healthy food from local farms

Our corps members work with school food teams and local farmers to change what’s offered in the lunch line.  Last year, they connected with farmers and ranchers to introduce 308 new, local ingredients into school lunch. They held 882 cafeteria tastings to get kids excited about healthy offerings, a strategy that ensures that new recipes will be enjoyed once they are introduced.  A FoodCorps leader in Michigan describes such an event:

When I was serving roasted beets for a tasting activity at Interlochen Elementary School this week, a young girl was hesitant to try the roasted beet that I offered to her. She took the beet in her fingers and looked at me skeptically and then asked, “Well, is it healthy?” “Yeah! Of course it is!” I replied. And so she responded enthusiastically “YES!” and popped the oven-baked ruby red root vegetable right into her mouth. “YUM!” she smiled, “Can I have another please?”

Changes in Behavior and Environments

Far more important than reaching a child is changing a child. A positive attitude toward healthy food is an important precursor to adopting lifelong healthy eating behaviors.  We are proud to say that our corps members not only educate children about what healthy food is, but also change their attitudes toward it: 65% of classrooms that spent 10 or more hours with a FoodCorps service member were more willing to try new fruits and vegetables.

We also recognize that a child’s school environment influences his or her health. If French fries and pizza are offered in the lunch line and vending machines line the hallways, it’s difficult to make healthy decisions. Our service members aspire to transform their schools into oases of health, greenery and joy, and we’re measuring each of our program’s participating schools’ progress year over year through our Landscape Assessment tool.  Last year, 66% of schools where FoodCorps members served made better use of their gardens. Another 60% of schools made improvements to their cafeteria environments to promote healthy eating and access to fresh foods.

New Opportunities

“The mother of one of my students said that her daughter gets disappointed now when there aren’t more vegetables at dinner.  Success!”  –FoodCorps member in Portland, Oregon.

Every day we are hearing stories like this one from kids and parents who tell us how FoodCorps is changing what’s on the dinner table.  We are currently developing a pilot survey with researchers at California Polytechnic University to collect feedback from parents whose children have received instruction from FoodCorps leaders so we can begin to fully understand the impact FoodCorps is having at the dinner table and in the grocery aisle – not just on the lunch line.

The results from our first two years have exceeded all expectations, and there is a growing demand for FoodCorps leaders around the country to implement our three-ingredient recipe to healthy kids:

Get Involved!

FoodCorps’ vision to transform the school food environment, to connect vulnerable kids to real food, and to provide service and leadership opportunities for more young people will only be successful with continued support.  Join us in giving all children the chance to thrive in a healthy food environment by donating to FoodCorps, spreading the word about us via Facebook and Twitter and encouraging strong leaders to join our corps.  Information can be found on our website.

FoodCorps’ Future

FoodCorps envisions a nation of well-nourished children:  children who know what healthy food is, how it grows and where it comes from, and who have access to it every day.  By 2050, across America’s 100,000 public schools, children will be growing up in healthy school food environments, learning better and living longer, liberated from diet-related diseases.

We also envision a bright future for our corps members:  lifelong leaders who, having invested a year of public service creating healthy food environments for children, will go on to become farmers, chefs, educators, and public health leaders.  These visionaries, armed with the skills to improve school food, will improve all food.

Contact

Michele Matyasovsky

Director of Corporate and Foundation Giving

Michele@foodcorps.org

212.596.7045 x118

 

Quotes from influencers

“Thousands of young Americans have dedicated themselves to reforming the food chain, from field to table, and of all the programs that have emerged to channel that energy and idealism, FoodCorps is the most inspiring.”

Michael Pollan, Author

 

“A small investment in FoodCorps buys something big: a program that is starting to roll back the $147 billion it costs us each year to deal with the health consequences of obesity.”

Mark Bittman, New York Times journalist

 

“Harnessing innovation, insight, and the passion of America’s youth, FoodCorps is meeting an enormously important need – to bring communities and their food closer together.”

Kelly Brownell, Dean, Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy  

 

“FoodCorps is at the cutting edge of today’s food movement, making sure that kids eat healthfully.  I can’t think of a better way to get started on careers that connect food and agriculture to health.  FoodCorps is doing important work—needed, necessary, exciting, and full of opportunity.”

Marion Nestle, Author and Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University

 

“FoodCorps delivers an incredibly high return on investment. Why? Because every dollar you donate is matched by something of immense value: a corps member’s time and talent.”

—Gary Hirschberg, Chairman, Stonyfield Organic

 

“FoodCorps is an inspired and much-needed idea for our times – helping social entrepreneurs connect children to healthy food in schools and communities. The model is already having significant impact, and this organization is scaling quickly. Anyone looking for a smart philanthropic investment would be wise to consider FoodCorps.”

— Heather McLeod Grant, Author of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits

 

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