Farm to School is a nationwide movement that consists of three core elements: nutrition education, school gardens, including innovative growing methods such as hydroponics and tower gardens, and local procurement or serving local foods in the cafeteria. Farm to School provides opportunities for students to try new foods and learn about the food they eat and their origins. Ensuring a student’s well-being is essential for them to be able to learn and thrive in the classroom, so Farm to School is viewed as a wellness opportunity for students to begin building healthy habits they will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
In 2017, Dallas County Public Health approached Waukee’s Nutrition Department to apply for a USDA Farm to School Grant. Waukee received the USDA Farm to School Planning Grant in 2018, and the grant will end in June of 2021. Out of the work from the Farm to School Planning Grant, the district has built many community partnerships with organizations such as Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Eat Greater Des Moines, and Dallas County Public Health. In addition, the district has created a Farm to School committee made up of various stakeholders, and the district has begun to set goals for integration of Farm to School throughout our school buildings.
Waukee APEX has been a valued partner in the Farm to School work thus far. Communications and graphic design student associates created and designed the logo in partnership with the grant team and Farm to School committee. Architecture student associates have helped the district to begin to conceptualize ideas for the design of a greenhouse. Construction student associates have designed and built raised beds for one of our existing school gardens. Agriculture student associates are working with a staff team at Timberline School to participate in the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s FFA Growing Together Initiative, which involves students producing food that is then served in the cafeteria.
Kaitlyn Scheuermann, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for the Waukee School District, explains future plans for the Farm to School Program in regards to Waukee APEX student associates. “Looking forward as we work toward applying for a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant, we continue to see that partnerships with APEX provide opportunities for students to be involved with the Farm to School movement.” She continues, “There are a variety of areas where we can utilize our Waukee APEX student associates: continuing planning and design for a district greenhouse, teaching about agriculture and nutrition in classrooms, creating or researching resources for classroom teachers, design of marketing materials, and expanding curriculum opportunities for secondary students to engage with agriculture.” Additionally, there are plans in place to work with Waukee’s FFA chapter to provide their students with activities to complement their FFA experience.
Kaitlyn Scheuermann shares, “We have had great success partnering with APEX student associates and value the ideas they are able to bring to the table. We feel the work we are able to do with the student associates gives them a meaningful experience they can take into the world as they move forward through high school and onto their careers while leaving a lasting impact in Waukee.”
In the short-term, the team is working toward creating a “Harvest of the Month” program for the district where a local food item will be served district-wide once per month. Long term, the committee has identified several priorities for our Farm to School program. Priorities include integrating local foods into the district’s cycle menu, connecting farmers to market opportunities with the district, constructing a greenhouse for increased learning opportunities, coordinating with classrooms to use local foods in lessons/nutrition education, and building a cumulative and integrated curriculum for Farm to School in the district.