On a cool and sunny spring day in northern Arizona, I brought my middle schoolers out to the school garden to harvest vegetables from the seeds we had planted only six weeks prior. My students arrived at the garden distracted and irritated, repeatedly asking if they could “just pick our vegetables already.” Trying to slow them down, I had them observe our carrot tops, spinach, lettuce, and parsley leaves and gave each student a bag to fill with garden produce. Their energy started to shift. As my students picked their vegetables, they expressed how they were going to take this produce home and share it with their families. As they harvested they remarked with pure excitement, “I’m going to be able to eat this until Thanksgiving!” and, “Now I got the munchies for the bus!” and, “Parsley is life!” As their garden teacher and FoodCorps service member, I witnessed the complete cycle: planting seeds in the garden, to tending to the crops, and harvest the produce. Most importantly, I witnessed my class become at ease and happy in their school garden.
As a FoodCorps fellow, I lead a team of eight FoodCorps Arizona service members serving twelve schools across the state. They connect our Arizona students to healthy food at school to help them grow up healthy. Our service members are placed directly in schools with community organizations, including The Native American Advancement Foundation, Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, the Prescott Farmers Market, The STAR Charter School, The Cibecue Community School, and Moenkopi Developers Corporation.
On a weekly basis, service members teach hands-on lessons in the school garden, implement nutrition and cooking education, and procure school garden and local farm produce for school meals. The best part? FoodCorps Arizona is working! Students’ excitement about growing, cooking and eating fruits and vegetables is increasing and they’re developing healthy eating habits that will last their whole lives. An excited kindergarten student told Elena, who serves the Prescott Farmers Market, “Thank you for teaching us about seeds and the garden!” As for our native students, these classes connect them more deeply to their traditions and food heritage. Julee, who serves her home community on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, is proud to teach the next generation about their cultural traditions, explaining that, “in order to have a healthy society, people need to feel healthy about themselves”. Elysse, who serves her home community of Moenkopi on the Hopi Reservation, explains that it’s not just the students who learn new things. “Farming is important to so many native tribes, and connecting with elders to learn about traditional foods and learn how healthy our ancestors were, is such an eye opener for me,” she says.
This cohort in Arizona is part of a nationwide team of 215 AmeriCorps leaders, in 17 states and Washington, D.C. They are connecting vulnerable children to healthy food and healthier futures in over 350 schools. They are are creating a future in which the entirety of our nation’s children––regardless of class, race, or geography––know what healthy food is, care where it comes from, and eat it every day. FoodCorps is currently recruiting applicants for next year’s class of service members. To find out more, visit the FoodCorps website.
Samantha Turner launched into the farm to school and food justice movement while participating in the University of Arizona’s School and Community Garden Program. During that time, she interned with Las Milpitas community farm and Drachman Elementary school garden, where she gained a passion for community-driven food systems. She then joined FoodCorps, a national service program connecting kids to healthy food, where she was an AmeriCorps Service Member with the Prescott Farmers Market in Prescott, Arizona. Samantha is now the FoodCorps Arizona Fellow, coordinating the FoodCorps Arizona network of seven community service sites and eight service members across the state. Although a desert dweller, Samantha loves the ocean.