FoodCorps MI – Building the relationship between students and healthy foods at school

FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who collaborate with community partners to make schools healthier places for kids to eat, learn and grow.

One in four U.S. children struggle with hunger, while one in three is obese or overweight. Yet the root cause is often the same: lack of access to healthy food. Schools are poised to be the front lines in our nation’s response to childhood obesity: 32 million children eat school food, which is the source of half their calories, 180 days of the year. What we feed our children, and what we teach them about food in school shapes how they learn, how they grow and how long they will live.

FoodCorps began in order to address the challenge of healthy food consumption in schools. FoodCorps service members across the nation provide food-focused learning in the classroom, bring learning outside into school gardens, and support the purchase and service of nourishing, locally-produced foods in the cafeteria. With these three aspects of the school food environment working together to leave a positive mark on students, we believe that a lifetime of healthy eating can take root.

What is FoodCorps? FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. In its fourth year nationally (2015), 182 FoodCorps service members have committed to a year of public service and are making a difference at 145 sites across 16 states and Washington DC! FoodCorps is part of the AmeriCorps Service Network and receives a portion of its funding from them, as well as from the W.K.Kellogg Foundation and a diverse array of private and public donors.

The Food Corps program in Michigan is administered by the Michigan State University Extension community food systems team– a statewide network of MSU Extension educators whose work is closely aligned with FoodCorps goals for healthy food consumption in schools and communities. Several other states also offer the national FoodCorps program through their Extension Services, and the remaining states have different state level partners host this National Service program. FoodCorps Michigan service members serve across the state, adding capacity to community-based organizations led by Site Supervisors who have already established successful food programming and extensive partnerships to positively influence the school food environment.

Ten FoodCorps service members are currently located around Michigan in six locations:

  • Crim Fitness Foundation in Flint
  • Detroit Black Community Food Security Network in Detroit
  • Detroit Public Schools
  • Michigan Land Use Institute in Traverse City
  • Michigan State University Extension – Chippewa County in Sault Ste. Marie
  • Wayne State University Center for School Health in Detroit

Since the beginning of the current program year starting September 1, 2014 our service members have contributed the following impact at their sites:

  • 2,847 children served
  • 606 activities conducted
  • 652 pounds brought into the cafeteria
  • 1297 pounds of produce harvested from school gardens
  • 67 community volunteers performed 161 volunteer hours

A few stories taken from this fall’s service in school classrooms and gardens highlight the impact that our service members are having in limited resource communities around the state of Michigan:

  • “When teaching my first lesson with a food tasting (the parts of a plant salad!), the kids could barely sit still during the lesson since they knew we would be having a tasting! During the prep portion, every student wanted to cut or grate vegetables and when eating, they requested seconds of sunflower seeds and grated carrots! I passed around examples of roots (carrots, radishes), stems (celery), leaves (kale and lettuce), etc. and showed a picture of how the plants grow before they're prepared to eat.
  • "I think this will be dirty but fun! A 6th grade girl commenting on the worm bin we'd just put together in class.”
  • “One student, who never liked apples, tried it with his fellow students, and went home and told his mom how much he liked it. Pretty awesome!”
  • “I finally met the new kitchen leader at Central Lake. When I asked if she would be interested in having tomatoes from the garden to use in the cafeteria, she didn't hesitate at all, and in fact went through the next week's menu with me and offered to find ways to incorporate tomatoes throughout the week! The second graders and I were able to harvest over 10 pounds that afternoon, and I had them rinsed and placed in her cooler by the end of the day.”
  • “Visiting Whitefish Township Community School and being in the garden with those kids who I haven't seen since spring was awesome. They were talking about how they had lettuce and Swiss chard they grew on the salad bar last week with a great sense of pride. They all wanted to thin the carrots and eat what they pulled as they talked about how much better everything they grew was then what you can buy”.

FoodCorps recruits talented leaders for a year of paid public service building healthy school food environments in limited-resource communities. The application for the 2015 - 2016 service year is coming on January 9, 2015! Sign up to get the link when it's ready.

Did you find this article useful?