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Posts Tagged ‘FoodCorps’

Bridging the Gap Between Classroom & Cafeteria

BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN CAFETERIA AND CLASSROOM IN NEW LONDON

FoodCorps Making an Impact

FoodCorps service members

Our FoodCorps Connecticut service members are making a large impact across the state!

Since September 1st:

The 15 superstar service members have interacted with  6257 students! 

They have harvested 355.25 lbs of produce from school or community gardens!

They have worked with 545 volunteers!

CT Service members have also worked with 40 farmers!

What amazing numbers!!!!

9/11 National Day of Service

Day of Service group photo

9/11 National Day of Service – members of FoodCorps CT and the CT Food Justice VISTA Project, helping a local farmer get her fields ready at Cloverleigh Farm in Mansfield.  Both projects are coordinated by UConn Extension and proud partners with AmeriCorps.

The Untimely Death of a Worm

By Catherine Hallisey

Connecticut FoodCorps

holding a wormAs I was kneeling by a raised garden bed, planting snap peas with a couple of students, I heard a third grader scream “NOOOOOO!” from the other side of the garden.  An array of thoughts immediately sped through my mind in the split second it took me to get over to her section of the garden—

“Is she hurt?”

“Did someone pull a kale plant thinking it was a weed?”

“Did she accidentally pour the watering can on herself instead of our radishes?”

It turned out none of the above scenarios were what caused a quiet eight year old to yell out in fright.  When I reached her side, she had a small trowel in one hand, and a half of an earthworm in the other.  The rest of the earthworm, I presume, was somewhere left in the soil of the garden bed she had been weeding in.

This girl was absolutely heart broken that she had killed a worm.  Obviously, I too was a little upset- here I had a distraught girl in the garden, and, a dead worm.  However, I was also proud. I was proud because this student had taken to heart our number one garden rule “respect all living things” — fellow classmates, beautiful sunflowers, tasty strawberries, slimy worms, scary beetles, buzzing bees, and much, much more.    She knew that worms were good for our soil, and therefore our plants, and was disappointed that she had killed a beneficial creature.  I consoled her by explaining there were a lot of worms in our garden, and it wasn’t that big of a deal.  She decided to be more careful in the future, and then gathered the rest of the group to give the worm a proper burial in the compost bin.

Get Ready to Guac and Roll!

By Catherine Hallisey

FoodCorps Connecticut Service Member

healthy snackIt all started with me holding up an avocado, screaming enthusiastically,

“WHO IS READY TO GUAC AND ROLL?!”

Unfortunately, my quirky pun did not elicit the response I had hoped for— instead students started groaning, “ewww that’s green” and “where’s the ranch?!” even “I am not touching that!”

Although these comments seem harsh, I was unfazed, for they are not out of the ordinary; in fact, I hear remarks like this on a near daily basis as a FoodCorps service member with the Tolland County Extension Center in Vernon.  I am constantly cooking with kids, mostly elementary school students; trying to introduce fresh, healthy foods into their diets.  This almost always means having to deal with the one, or two, or even twenty children who are hesitant to try something new.

And oh boy was guacamole a new one.  To the after school 4-H club, the avocado I was holding looked  like some kind of cross between a snake and a dinosaur egg, and they did not want to touch it.  My little cooks were being especially challenging today, it seemed.  After the group gathered the nerve to mash up the avocado with some tomato, cilantro, lime juice, and spices, we moved on to cutting veggies, and I started brainstorming how to get these students to just taste a little bit of our wonderful creation.

As I sat chopping carrots with a few especially obstinate fifth graders, I started explaining how nutritious an avocado was …more potassium than a banana, special fats that are good for your heart, fiber that keeps you full, etc. etc.  They listened and nodded their heads, but were not persuaded to try the dip that looked different than anything they had ever seen before.
making snackI racked my brain for a new plan, something fun, something unexpected.  Then it dawned on me- food art!  In what other setting would these students be able to play with their food? I took our giant bowl of guacamole, and started to spread it evenly on plates.  I gave each student a plate and various types of cut veggies and let them go wild.  Trees, flowers, smiley faces, abstract designs– you name it, and they made it.   It was messy, it was chaotic, and it was a success.  After all the effort each child put into creating their masterpiece, were they just going to let it go to waste? No! They were going to eat it- and soo
n enough, the “ewws” turned into “yums” and the “I’m not touching that” turned into “it’s not thattttt baddddd” (essentially a 5-star rating when it comes to fifth graders).  I sat back, crunching on a stick of celery, savoring my small victory, and brainstorming ways to get the students to try the hummus we’d be making the very next day.

FoodCorps Program Update

mariah tasting seeds

Eating pumpkin seeds at a FoodCorps event in Rockville.

The 2013 school year in Connecticut is turning out to be an interesting one. In New London, a giant apple showed up to a cafeteria to hand out apple chips, apple cider, and applesauce from apples donated by Palazzi Orchard in Killingly. At North Windham Elementary, 4th and 5th graders were seen standing outside on a beautiful fall day selling vegetables they had grown in their new school garden. Faculty, staff, and community members grabbed at the crisp clean produce, leaving only a few handfuls of herbs by the end of the day. In New Haven, rumors are spreading about small hands in the school kitchen scooping innards out of miniature baking pumpkins, whipping up low-sugar pumpkin custard, pouring the custard back into the hollowed out pumpkins and baking crustless Pumpkin-Pumpkin Pies. In Ansonia, 6th graders were seen walking from their school to nearby Massaro Community Farm, where they transplanted spinach into raised bed cold-frames and solved mysteries about how garlic grows and what yummy orange root vegetable was growing under the fine green strands seen above-ground. Pre-schoolers were found relishing raw spinach snacks in Hartford. Putnam students have been gobbling up fresh carrots from a visiting farmer and feeding red-wiggler worms compost scraps. New Haven garden-clubbers are jumping up and down in excitement at the idea that they could one day be a gardener or farmer – and not just for Halloween. Kids all across the state are acting very strange indeed…or are they?

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Another student in Rockville enjoying pumpkin seeds at the cooking club.

There is a narrative out there that kids wont eat healthy, but FoodCorps believes (and sees) differently. Twelve FoodCorps service members in school districts across the state are educating kids about where their food comes from, how to prepare delicious meals with fresh, local produce, and how all this relates to personal and community health. In Norwich, New London, New Haven, Bridgeport, Ansonia, New Britain, Hartford, East Hartford, Rockville, Windham and Putnam, FoodCorps service members are supported by community organizations (usually a non-profit, or the school food services department). Service members work with many other partners nearby and around the state (such as the Connecticut Farm-to-School program, Connecticut Ag in the Classroom, Cooking Matters, UConn dietetic interns, and local farmers) to teach classes, build school gardens, and help bring more local produce into school cafeterias. When all these resources are brought together into the school, they help foster fun, positive relationships between kids and whole, unprocessed foods. Students not only learn the link between diet and health, but they learn how to participate in and enjoy the process of making those healthier choices. When these practices are integrated simultaneously in their classrooms, the cafeteria, and at home, we have a real chance of bettering student health outcomes for the future and reversing the trend of childhood diet-related diseases.

So this spooky season, while candy abounds on every corner, the strangest thing you might see is a kid eating a carrot with gusto in his classroom, or hear tales of a class of Ansonia 2nd graders who, on their first encounter, fell in love with baked kale chips…but we promise you, it won’t be strange for long.

FoodCorps is a national non-profit private/public partnership that operates an AmeriCorps program – a nationwide team of leaders that helps kids grow up healthy. The program first came to Connecticut last year through the inspiration and guidance of Jiff Martin, Sustainable Food Systems Educator at the Tolland County UConn Extension office. This year, with the help of the Connecticut Commission on Community Service and other funders, the program was able to expand from the original 5 sites to the current 12. For more information, please contact Dana Stevens at dana.stevens@foodcorps.org, visit our website, and like us on Facebook!

Connecticut Food Justice Youth Corps

VISTA logoThe Connecticut Food Justice Youth Corps (CTFJYC) is a team of five AmeriCorps VISTA’s increasing the collaboration and coherence of non-profits working the field of Food Justice. The strength of this collaboration begins and ends with an understanding of what each of these separate organizations seek to create: a community movement, driven by youth, to improve the access and affordability of healthy food regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity, or citizenship. These organizations have the common desire to give communities a voice that speaks to their own food needs and to ensure that this voice is loud enough to be heard.

Generally targeting middle and high school age students, individual organizations under the FJYC umbrella are developing a common curricula for use or adaptation at any school, a curricula that seeks to educate and empower. The youth that emerge as leaders, role models and activists are then given the tools to craft a movement of their own design, based on an assessment of community needs through their own eyes. It is the VISTA’s position to support the youth at each juncture, with the aid of community and college volunteers. Along the way youth groups will meet with partner organizations at food policy meetings, summits, and convening’s; the capstone being a youth driven convening for all of the partner organizations to attend, as well as speakers and advocates in the field of food justice. Youth groups will present their projects, the successes and the failures, and learn from one another just how powerful a group of young minds can be in changing the way their community looks at food.

Currently the FJYC is a collaboration of five main organization, backed by the support of FoodCorps, the UConn Extension office, and the Institute for Community Research. Our sites are in locations all across Connecticut, with the connection being a low income, high-risk community in need of food system change. VISTA’s serve with GROW Windham (Windham County), FRESH New London, NEAT (North End, Middletown), Hartford Food Systems and CitySeed (New Haven).  Each site has unique challenges dependent upon its location; therefore the common curricula is developed with adaptation in mind. With the continued support of UConn Extension and AmeriCorps, our hope is to expand the network of VISTA’s working with non-profit in the field of food justice from five to twelve in the summer of 2014. Our goal, to make a fluid social movement driven by collective impact is slowly but surely gaining momentum; each day is more exciting than the last.

GROW Hartford VISTA welcome

 

 

Growing Sustainable Food Systems in Connecticut

Join Windham County Extension Council for an evening of food and friends as they discuss Growing Sustainable Food Systems in Connecticut with UConn Extension Educator Jiff Martin and others.

You will learn how UConn Extension helps improve school food, assists beginning farmers and promotes community food safety. For more information please see check in with Windham County Extension Center.

kids with greens

Sustainable Food Systems

UConn Extension has been adding new programs in Sustainable Food Systems over the past couple of years. Extension Educator Jiff Martin is helping to coordinate a team of talented individuals as they build these programs.  “I am more of a generalist than a specialist, so for me teamwork is pretty essential to getting things done,” Jiff says.  She points out that food issues can bring a variety of people together naturally – much like cooking together and eating together.  She also notes, “There are enormous challenges ahead if we really want to see a sustainable food system that meets our needs for fresh, healthy, affordable food today without jeopardizing the ability of future generations from doing the same.  That’s why I believe most of the work around sustainable food systems nationally tends to depend on regional collaborations and coalitions.”

Kip presentingThe Scaling Up Program for Beginning Farmers, funded by USDA, is a three-year outreach and training program for new and beginner farmers in Connecticut.  “In the whole farm planning activity of this program, an extension educator team will work intensively with at least 10 beginning farmers over three years, helping them navigate multiple challenges as they scale up their farm enterprises into full-time viable and growing operations,” Jiff begins.  Areas of education for the whole farm planning participants include:  business management, IPM, crop planning, labor management, equipment use, conservation, land access and tenure.    “We will also develop a set of new training tools and curriculum to help beginner farmers acquire Farm Management skills in the core areas of production planning, infrastructure decisions, and non-production management.  Extension educators in the Scaling Up Program include: Jude Boucher, Leanne Pundt, Joe Bonelli and Mary Concklin.  The team also hired Eero Ruuttila to serve as the Sustainable Agriculture specialist and Kip Kolesinskas as the Land Conservation specialist.  An advisory team of farmers and agricultural professionals are also working with the team, as well as partner organizations:  CT NOFA, New CTFarmers Alliance, CAES and Land for Good.

 

FoodCorps CT is a service program for college graduates focused on improving school food environments via school gardens, nutrition education, andFoodCorps service members farm to school.  Five FoodCorps service members are working in the following school districts:  Bridgeport, New Haven, Windham, New Britain and Norwich.  The FoodCorps fellow, Dana Stevens is based out of the Tolland County Extension Center.  “FoodCorps service members are incredibly motivated and effective, and it’s inspiring to see what this ‘boots on the ground’ program can do to excite children about healthy, fresh food,” Jiff says.  “The service members, partner organizations and advisory team are another group of experienced and talented people who together are making FoodCorps CT into a model program. “   Extension and UConn team members include:  Maryann Fusco-Rollins, Erica Benvenuti, Heather Pease, Heather Peracchio, Tina Dugdale and Linda Drake.

 

The BuyCTGrown project is building the #1 online hub for our community of consumers who are ready to discover and experience local Connecticut agriculture.  UConn Extension is partnering with CitySeed, a non-profit in New Haven, as we plan to redesign the website, www.BuyCTGrown.com and launch the 10% campaign in 2013.  “The 10% Campaign is a great concept modeled on a project from North Carolina.  It engages consumers and others that are already excited about local agriculture and tracks the economic impact that occurs when consumers, chefs, food service directors and produce buyers make a commitment to buying 10% local.”  My vision is that other extension educators will want to join the 10% Campaign as local campaign coordinators, in the same manner that North Carolina Extension has mobilized over 100 coordinators.  UConn Extension team members Ben Campbell and Nancy Barrett have been working with Jiff, as well as CT Dept. of Agriculture, CT Farm Bureau, and CT NOFA on laying the groundwork for the 10% Campaign.

Tapping into the local food movement and a growing interest in ‘collective impact’ strategies, on December 4th, over 80 individuals gathered at the Middlesex County Extension Center to launch the Connecticut Food System Alliance.  Jiff and a planning team of 8 partner organizations worked over several months with a facilitator to lay the groundwork for this statewide network of food system leaders, practitioners, and stakeholders.   A new listserv was also launched in tandem: CT_Food_System_Leader-L.   “The timing is right for this sort of network and there is real pent-up opportunity for more collaboration, alignment, and joint action,” Jiff states.  Extension team members that have participated so far include Mike O’Neill, Bonnie Burr, Diane Hirsch, Joe Bonelli, and Linda Drake.

Connecticut FoodCorps

One experience at a time, children in Connecticut are learning where their food comes from, how to grow their own, and how to prepare local fresh produce to nourish themselves.

Beginning last August, FoodCorps service members have been placed in five communities across the state for a year of service. Their efforts focus on connecting with parents, school administrators, teachers, food service staff, and community members, to create healthier food environments for children.

FoodCorps service members
FoodCorps is a new national service program in its second year, it is similar to Teach for America or Peace Corps. The program works with state organizations to host young leaders, known as service members, in low-resource communities to help tackle the childhood obesity epidemic. Through hands-on nutrition education, garden program building and support, and farm-to-school procurement assistance for cafeterias, the goal is to change the food systems children are a part of, from the individual to the institutional level.

The five service members are in: Norwich, New Britain, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Windham.  They have been developing new programs, like the Food Day event at Barnum Elementary in Bridgeport.  Service members are also expanding the reach of existing programming, they coordinated “Fuel Up to Play 60” trainings in Norwich, Windham, and Bridgeport schools.  FoodCorps is also acting as an extra pair of boots on the ground for service site organization initiatives, for instance helping Common Ground develop the School Garden Resource Center in New Haven and Bridgeport.

Individuals come to this year of service with a wealth of experience, inspiration, and a desire to contribute something positive to the world. As Liz, the service member in Norwich explains, “I now know that there are people struggling every day to put food on my table, sometimes at the expense of putting food on their own. I know that there is an epidemic of obesity in America, posing serious health risks to children. I have learned that food has the power to bring people together, but also to tear communities apart. I want to be a part of the food movement that encourages healthy food environments, healthy kids, and healthy communities, even if that requires a lot of time, hard work, and personal change”

The FoodCorps program is run out of the Tolland County Extension Center in Vernon by Jiff Martin, Sustainable Food Systems Educator.   FoodCorps co-captains are:  Dawn Crayco, Deputy Director of End Hunger CT!; Christiana Jones of Jones Family Farm, and Dana Stevens, Connecticut FoodCorps Fellow. The FoodCorps Connecticut program hopes to expand to additional sites across the state in 2014.

If you would like more information about the program, you can like “FoodCorps Connecticut” on facebook, or email Jiff at jiff.martin@uconn.edu, or Dana at dana.stevens@foodcorps.org. For those interested in becoming a FoodCorps Service Member, applications for next year can be submitted from January 15th through March 24th. Please visit www.foodcorps.org for more information.