Some of Iowa’s smallest farmers will have the opportunity to garden and learn about food production thanks to new grants from the US Department of Agriculture.
The USDA has awarded $ 224,000 to three groups in Iowa to create or expand on-farm learning for students. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, said in a USDA press release that the program will also help schools expand access to healthy food.
âNot only will this give children more nutritious food options in school, but it will support local agricultural economies, while also connecting them to the farms and farmers who grow the food we all depend on,â said Vilsack.
In central Iowa, the Waukee Community School District will use its grant of nearly $ 76,000 to continue the farm-to-school program that began several years ago. Already, the district has five gardens – two indoor and three outdoor tower gardens – growing carrots, radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, green beans and more. The district plans to use the new funds to improve existing programs, plant new gardens and write farm-related curricula for all grade levels.
âI think the skills that children develop in these types of programs are critical to their success, even beyond the 13 years that they have been with us in the school system,â said Kaitlyn Scheuermann, registered dietitian for the district. Waukee School. âYou teach kids how to grow food, you teach them healthy habits. There are so many different skills that they are learning, even beyond the scientific standards that we teach them.
A partnership in Iowa City between the school district, the area’s education agency, and Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development will receive a grant of nearly $ 50,000 to create an on-farm curriculum for marginalized students. Their program will bring hands-on organic farming experiences to under-represented students and teach a “fairer and more inclusive food system,” according to a list of USDA grantees.
In northeast Iowa, Project Rooted and Resource Conservation and Development for Northeast Iowa will receive nearly $ 100,000 in federal funds to work with the Dubuque Community School District. The group aims to bring boxes of healthy snacks to students to teach them about nutrition, food production and cooking.
Waukee expands program with new funding
Waukee schools began school farming projects even before receiving the first USDA grant, Scheuermann said, when two teachers at Walnut Hills Elementary School worked with the parent-teacher organization to create a garden in 2015.
USDA selected Waukee for a grant of nearly $ 50,000 in 2018 to enable the district to plan a more robust agricultural program. The first tranche of funds was spent on the first five gardens and the creation of infrastructure for farm-to-school programs.
âNow that we’ve got our farm-to-school grant, we’ve been able to sort of join together as a district and provide financial support (and) administrative programming support as well. ” Scheuermann mentionned.
With the additional $ 76,000, Scheuermann said Waukee schools will further integrate gardens into the curriculum. Beyond just teaching the life cycle of plants, she said, the outdoor spaces could be used as a quiet place for reading or art classes. The district will also work to create gardening programs specifically for students and families learning English as a second language.
Until now, the produce from the school gardens has been mainly used for education and program promotion – the few raised beds cannot produce enough vegetables to accommodate hundreds of lunches. Instead, Waukee schools provided âsample sizeâ products to some families as part of their take-out program during the summer.
“It would be great if one day we had enough gardens in production that we couldâ¦ make it really part of the meal, but I think we still have a ways to go before that is possible.” Scheuermann mentionned.