FoodCorps Service Program: Changing the school food environment
In its third year nationally, 125 FoodCorps service members and 15 FoodCorps Fellows are making a difference at 108 sites across 15 states!
FoodCorps is a national service organization that connects kids to real food and helps them grow up healthy. Motivated emerging leaders are placed in limited-resource communities for a year of paid public service in school food systems. Serving under the direction of local partner organizations, they expand hands-on nutrition education programs, build and tend school gardens, and bring high quality local foods into school cafeterias, activities which exemplify the FoodCorps program pillars of service: knowledge, engagement and access.
In its third year nationally (2014), 125 FoodCorps service members and 15 FoodCorps Fellows are making a difference at 108 sites across 15 states! FoodCorps is part of the AmeriCorps Service Network and receives a portion of its funding from them, as well as from the W.K.Kellogg Foundation and a diverse array of private and public donors. Why did FoodCorps begin? To address the challenge of childhood obesity. Since 1980, the percentage of American children who are overweight or obese has doubled. With one in four U.S. children struggling with hunger, and one in three obese or overweight, FoodCorps addresses the root cause of both, access to healthy food.
The Food Corps program in Michigan is administered by the Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems team – a statewide network of Extension educators whose work is closely aligned with the FoodCorps pillars of service - knowledge, engagement and access. Several other states offer the national FoodCorps program through their Extension Service – Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey and North Carolina.
Seven FoodCorps service members are currently located around Michigan in 5 locations:
- Crim Fitness Foundation in Flint
- Detroit Black Community Food Security Network in Detroit
- Wayne State University Center for School Health in Detroit
- Michigan Land Use Institute in Traverse City
- Chippewa County MSU Extension in Sault Ste. Marie
As part of FoodCorps national service program’s annual review, several of Michigan’s FoodCorps sites were visited last week by members of the FoodCorps national team, and the experience was inspiring!
At the Crim Fitness Foundation service site in Flint, FoodCorps service members Dennis Lackey and Sarah Adcock engaged their students at Freeman Elementary School in a lesson about vegetable identification and edible plant parts through a classroom game that had them eager to learn where their food comes from.
At the Chippewa MSU Extension site in Sault Ste. Marie, we visited Malcolm High School where the FoodCorps service member Kathryn O’Donnell is partnered with the science teacher Clare Arbic in efforts to refurbish and cultivate a hoop-house this spring on site at the school. With the involvement and ownership of the students, Malcolm will plant vegetable crops to support a youth farm stand project and also supplement the school’s food pantry – which provides students with needed supplemental food at night and on weekends.
At the Wayne State University Center for School Health site in Detroit, we observed FoodCorps service member Angela Hojnacki using the narrative of a banana from South America and an apple from Michigan to illustrate food systems and the links in the supply chain to a 5th grade class at the Detroit Leadership Academy. In imaginary roles as farmers, processors, distributors, retailers and consumers, students had to communicate their thoughts for how much the food should cost to their fellow food system player and how much they should receive from the next buyer in the chain to make a viable living. A very lively discussion ensued, and the kids understanding of the topic was impressive!
The 7 FoodCorps Michigan service members, supported by the Michigan FoodCorps fellow and the Host Site supervisor, are true servant leaders, focusing their service on healthy food knowledge, engagement and access. FoodCorps Michigan statistics from the beginning of the program year, September 1, 2013 include: 3,920 children served; 719 activities conducted; 22 cafeteria tasting events; 7,047 pounds brought into the cafeteria; 85 lbs of produce harvested from school gardens; 43 community volunteers performed 238 volunteer hours.