March 26, 2013: FoodCorps, a two-year-old grantee of AmeriCorps that works to combat child obesity and hunger through school gardens, has expanded to California. Calaveras Unified School District, serving the northern half of Calaveras County (San Andreas/Valley Springs), is one of the first local recipients.
At left, Autumn Hesser, kindergarten teacher at Valley Springs Elementary School, with her students in the school and community garden project. One of the FoodCorps employees will be assigned to help Hesser, who is also the district's garden coordinator, expand its program.
“We currently have garden programs in four elementary schools and at our middle school,” Hesser said. “Two other elementary schools are in the process of building support to create their own gardens, and our goal is to have a garden in every school by the end of the 2014-2015 school year.”
FoodCorps selects state-level host sites and works with their pre-existing model organization to adapt to the community's individual needs. For example, Calaveras's host site is The University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Central Sierra. The UCCE Central Sierra already promotes community gardens and other environmental issues, such as invasive weed management. A FoodCorps service member will coordinate the program between UCCE Central Sierra and the Calaveras USD to create school gardens. On a state-wide basis, FoodCorps is managed by Life Lab and Community Alliance with Family Farmers.
Service members for FoodCorps are over and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Members work with teachers to develop lesson plans, and cafeteria staff to bring local, healthy food choices into the school menu. According to Dana M. Nichols for Recordnet.com, FoodCorps employees are trained to serve as leaders in improving child nutrition though hands-on activities and efforts to bring more fresh foods into schools. FoodCorps places service members in one-year positions in "limited-resource" communities.
Each year, standout graduates of the FoodCorps program are invited back for an additional year as FoodCorps Fellows. This year, all 15 FoodCorps Fellows will receive world-class training at a week-long Edible Schoolyard Academy grounded in ESYP's 17 years of experience (the program was founded -- "The Delicious Revolution" --by Alice Waters of the Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, and Neil Smith, then principal of Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley). The Fellows will then return to their home states to train new service members in Edible Schoolyard’s integrated approach to education in the garden, kitchen, lunchroom, and classroom.
Privately funded programs in public schools are becoming a national trend: HealthCorps, for example, is found in 27 CA schools. Funders of FoodCorps include a number of private foundations and companies including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the David Rockefeller Fund and Whole Kids Foundation.
(Curt Ellis, co-founder and executive director of FoodCorps gives a TEDxManhattan talk about the vision behind the program.)
Written by Taylor McCulloch.