Food and Nutrition in the Classroom

Since 2019, CoBank has provided financial support to FoodCorps, a national nonprofit that partners with communities to connect kids to healthy food in school so that every child gets the nourishment they need to thrive.

The partnership, which has helped to increase the impact of FoodCorps’ program in 13 states (including Arkansas, California, Connecticut, DC Metro, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Oregon) and Washington, D.C., not only bolsters nutrition education and healthy school meals, it also provides opportunities to strengthen farm to school connections.

FoodCorps serves communities across the country, offering 130,000+ school-aged children hands-on education about food and nutrition in the classroom and in the garden.

In the 2020-2021 school year, FoodCorps placed 225 trained AmeriCorps service members in schools across the nation.

Overall, 14 percent of schools served by FoodCorps are located in rural America. In states with large rural populations, that percentage increases significantly. For example, rural communities comprise 27 percent of schools served by FoodCorps in North Carolina and 35 percent in Arkansas.

FoodCorps works closely with local farmers, schools and communities to deliver programming that integrates the rich food and farming traditions of the local community. Together they collaborate to create nutritious and appealing school meals and to foster a school-wide culture of health. Nearly 73 percent of FoodCorps schools have measurably healthier school food environments by the end of the school year. For example, in schools with more of FoodCorps’ hands-on learning activities, children are eating up to three times as many fruits and vegetables.

“Our partnership with FoodCorps and our farm to school efforts in general, help to ensure that children in rural America have access to the fresh, nutritional produce that is grown right in their own communities,” said Brian Cavey, senior vice president, Corporate Communications and Government Affairs for CoBank. “At the same time, we are creating connections that help to establish new markets and increase demand for local farmers. It’s a win-win proposition for everyone involved and one that will, hopefully, create healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.”

FoodCorps works with the entire school community—from teachers to cafeteria workers to parents—to get kids excited to try new, healthy foods.

In response to the pandemic, FoodCorps service members adapted their programming to accommodate each community’s unique circumstances. Where schools were forced to move to remote learning, FoodCorps teams stepped in to assist with efforts to make sure children still received meals. They provided lesson plans and materials to parents and guardians to ensure students could continue to learn about healthy eating at home. In addition, FoodCorps service members worked to maintain local school gardens to provide additional food access.

In communities where in-person learning continued, FoodCorps volunteers expanded their school garden programming.

“Garden education is so essential and so important,” said Kim Doughty McCannon, FoodCorps partner and owner of Bell Urban Farm in Conway, Arkansas. “It introduces kids to how you grow food and the benefits of eating healthy, whole food at a young age so they can carry that with them.”

A recent survey showed that 42% of students tried new vegetables for the first time during FoodCorps lessons

The message about the benefits of healthy eating and the connection to local farmers is certainly resonating with children participating in FoodCorps programming. “Farmers are really important,” said Evolette, a 5th grader at Cedarville Elementary School, Cedarville, AR. “They help us with veggies and flowers and plants to give to people and make them happy and smile.”

“No matter who you are or where you are from, you deserve access to healthy, top-quality food at school. Building a strong relationship between local farms and our schools, and ensuring they are sourcing locally strengthens the local economy and provides for our students and families,” said Curt Ellis, CEO and Co-Founder of FoodCorps. “We are proud of our partnership with CoBank and look forward to continuing this critical work as we invest in our farm to school programs.”

This story was originally published in the CoBank 2021 Corporate Social Responsibility Report.