An exciting new national service program called FoodCorps launched this month with the goal of addressing healthy food access for children in low-income communities by recruiting young inspired leaders to commit to a year of public service. These service members have been given marching orders to create and maintain school gardens, provide hands-on nutrition education and offer healthy, fresh, local food in public school cafeterias. Ultimately, FoodCorps hopes to make farm-to-school and school garden programs the norm in an effort to counteract the escalation of diet-related diseases that are plaguing our nation’s youth.
After receiving more than 1,200 applicants, 50 service members have been chosen to be positioned in 42 limited-resource communities in ten states: Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oregon. The initiative aims to provide at least ten hours of garden-facilitated nutrition education to several thousand kids in 130 schools across the U.S. within their first year of operation. Each member is placed with a local organization that already has a positive track record of engaging in childhood nutrition and food access issues in those communities.
As FoodCorps co-founder and former Slow Food USA’s Cecily Upton told Good Magazine, “This is more than just another food pyramid poster on the cafeteria wall. Foodcorps is a school food army, putting boots on the ground in service for healthier kids.”
Other co-founders include Curt Ellis of the epic food documentary “King Corn” and Debra Eschmeyer from the National Farm to School Network. Foodcorps teamed up with Americorps, receiving one third of their funding from the established organization and the rest from individual donors and foundations such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
FoodCorps will provide professional training, leadership skills and mentoring to service members, in hopes that after their year of service, these enthusiastic youngsters will go out into the world prepared with the tools to continue to advance the cause of healthy food systems for kids, whether that be as farmers, chefs, public health officials, teachers, school administrators etc. They estimate that 50% of service members will pursue related careers that enhance our country’s state of wellness. Members will also be tasked with paying it forward, food style, strengthening the communities in which they serve by training and recruiting on average five volunteers and placing them to work in farm-to-school and school garden projects.
While a vision to build a country full of properly nourished kids who are educated about healthy food and the manner in which it is grown is a lofty ambition, it is certainly a much-needed and well-timed one considering the appalling rates of childhood obesity and diabetes coupled with the surge of interest in farm-to-school and school garden programs. If you are itching to get your hands dirty, be sure to check out FoodCorps about applying to be a service member or becoming a Foodcorps work site.
Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.