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Schools Innovate to Provide Farm to School Activities
Virtual taste tests, home garden kits, and working with local farmers fuels school nutrition programs to keep students engaged.

With all of the limitations faced by schools during the pandemic, thinking creatively about how to keep students engaged has burst forth across the country. 

The Farm to School Collective, a gathering of eight San Diego County school districts’ nutrition programs, spurred on that creativity by facilitating and sharing new, innovative techniques to ensure students maintained access to local foods, nutrition education, and school garden efforts.

From Virtual Taste Tests to home garden starter kits to working with local farmers, Farm to School Collective districts have shown creativity in supporting and expanding their Farm to School programs. These districts have developed new ways of engaging students, teachers, and families in new and exciting ways that may just build models for the post-COVID future.

Virtual Taste Tests

With students consigned to virtual classes, the popular Harvest of the Month program became more challenging to conduct. How to encourage children to taste new fruits & vegetables in their classrooms when their classrooms were no longer there? For Janelle Manzano, the Farm to School Program Specialist for San Diego Unified School District, the answer was simple: get creative.

Janelle used her virtual nutrition classes to invite students (and families) to a Virtual Taste Test. With produce made available through the district’s curbside pickup program, students were invited to log on to a Zoom call with Janelle and two FoodCorps volunteers, as she taught about the various items and had students share their experiences simultaneously over the video conferencing platform.

“Watching kids try kiwi, some for the first time, and talk with them about the importance and fun of fresh fruits and vegetables, is a great opportunity,” says Janelle. “It’s a great way to maintain nutrition education in the classroom, whether that classroom is on a school campus or in a child’s home.”

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Home Garden Kits

Sweetwater Union High School District was one of several districts to take advantage of the Farm to School Collective sourcing hundreds of Home Garden Starter Kits. The kits are comprised of seed packets, peat pellets, instructions, and suggestions for starting a simple home garden in a space as small as a kitchen counter. 

Five schools in the district were provided kits to include in their curbside meal distribution.

“It was something that really helped to tie kids back to their schools and the school meal program,” says Eric Span, Director of Nutrition Services for the district. “Parents, our staff, and administration all appreciated it and it was a bonus activity for our students that helped them see how easy it is to start a small home garden.”

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Locally-sourced Foods

For Amanda Thomas, Director of Child Nutrition for Lakeside Union School District, working with local farmers was a catalyst for more families engaging with her department’s work. 

On the last day for drive-thru service before the district’s Spring Break, Amanda’s team provided 1,200 3-lb. bags of organic tangerines from Stehly Farms, a local farm that works with a number of school districts to make their local produce available for students across San Diego county. Amanda’s department posted and shared pictures of the tangerines in advance of the drive-thru distribution, driving demand to new heights.

Says Amanda, “We had a lot of really excited parents and students, and we had a higher turnout than we typically have for drive-thru meals.”  She says that the organic bulk fruit also brought unsolicited thanks and praise from parents in the district. “I got several emails from parents just thanking me, and saying that they've noticed that we're trying harder to incorporate healthier and higher quality foods.”

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