Groups of interested parties gathered together at Carolyn Lewis Elementary for the school’s first ever Farm To School Summit event on Friday.
Arkansas farmers, educators, school nutrition staff, parents, distributors and value-chain coordinators attended the day to learn more about how Farm to School works, how to work with students during hands-on learning, serve the local food in the school cafeteria and how to sell their products to the schools.
The Arkansas Farm to School Summit: Growing Together, was hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology, Food Corps, Arkansas Department of Agriculture Department and the state and Conway Farm to School network.
Sarah Lane, a FoodCorp member at Carolyn Lewis, said the group of participants were able to see a taste test in action with the school’s first graders, get in the garden and learn about how it can be a safe space for kids to experience social and emotional healing and heard about how to make the program sustainable wherever they are.
She said the day was a great way for the group to come and learn how to create, continue or expand a Farm to School program near them.
Lane has been at the school for a year and a half — she’s allowed two years at a certain place — and sees students every day for hands-on lessons about gardening, nutrition and cooking.
She also leads an after school gardening and cooking club called the Sprout Scouts.
Lane said talking with kids at this young age is the perfect time frame to get them plugged into gardening.
“We’re seeing about one in three kids being overweight or obese and that’s as children,” she said. “Moving forward, and you know as adults, the likelihood of continuing that is very high.”
Meeting these kids at this young age, Lane said, and combining that with the fact they’re already in an environment of learning, is a perfect way to the all that together with “we eat all the time,” so let’s understand where that comes from.
“We kind of have this generation gap where grandparents know how to grow food, adults and parents right now, we missed that and then kids now a days, the Farm to School movement is a really exciting, people are excited about it and so kids are excited,” she said.
Teaching is something Lane said she is passionate about and her time in Conway has truly shaped the direction she wants to move forward in.
“I think my favorite pat is really when the kids are in my lessons and they’re making those connections that maybe I didn’t even think they were getting,” she said.
Lane said she remembers one lesson where they got on the topic of the benefits of trees. She said the students were so passionate about what they were talking about and were delving deeper into the topic that she ended up throwing out the day’s lesson and letting the students take the conversation where it needed to go.
“They just want more and more and more and it makes me want to work more and more and more,” Lane said, excitedly.
She said the kids love getting in the garden and learning about all it has to over, putting their hands in the dirty and getting messy.
Since she’s been at the school, Lane said the biggest impact she’s seen is in their attitude.
“I think the students are willing to try anything and that’s a huge improvement,” she said. “When we first started we had a lot of kids who did not want to even try something that we picked.”
Lane said now they’ve worked through that and the students are more respectful to not “yuck someone else’s yums.”
Through her time in Conway, she’s not only seen how much the school has grown to support the garden and the education it enables, but also the way the parents and the local community has attached itself to these gardens across the district, eager to help in anyway possible.
To her, seeing that amazing support she said, has been everything.
The Conway School District initially received a USDA Farm to School grant for $25,000 in 2015.
Today, the district has gardens in every elementary in the district.