By Debra Eschmeyer
In the spring of 2009, the seeds of our organization—and the seeds for a healthy future— were planted by two important White House initiatives. That March, shovels dug in to break ground on the White House Kitchen Garden, and a few weeks later, President Obama signed the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law. Motivated to reverse the startling trend in childhood obesity and usher in a new era of service, FoodCorps’ founding team was inspired by these two events and saw in them an opportunity to engage AmeriCorps in building a more sustainable, healthful and equitable food system.
With private co-investment, FoodCorps places AmeriCorps leaders into limited resource communities to teach kids about healthy food and lead them on a path towards a healthy future: building and tending school gardens, leading children in taste tests and cooking lessons, and then collaborating with school food directors to get healthy, local items onto school lunch trays.
When these three things are done together—knowledge, engagement and access—kids eat and enjoy healthy food. And not just for a day; they build healthy habits to last them a lifetime. When an eighth-grade boy asks “Can I go outside to eat more broccoli?” and a third-grade girl declares a freshly picked cherry tomato “better than Gushers,” we know their service is making a difference.
We currently have 125 AmeriCorps service members serving 421 schools across 15 states. Since Sept. 1, they have reached 74,582 children; built or revitalized 325 gardens; harvested and donated 23,630 pounds of garden produce; and recruited 2,403 community volunteers to join the effort.
We have found that service is the perfect vehicle for building this healthy future; citizens coming together to solve for the solution in their own communities. Families, communities and schools have assembled to grow, cook and eat healthy food, progress FoodCorps service members have supported serving under the direction of our state and community partners.
The seeds cultivated on the White House lawn have sprouted and grown into signs that a healthier future for our children is within reach, and not just in the hundreds of school gardens our service members tend around the country. Just in the past month, First Lady Michelle Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced proposed guidelines for school wellness policies and expansion of the school breakfast program. The First Lady also joined the FDA to propose a redesigned Nutrition Facts label to help make the healthy choice the easy choice.
Collaboration at all these levels is essential for getting that boy to love broccoli and that girl to love cherry tomatoes. That’s why the USDA is supporting programs like FoodCorps to make sure that the important and necessary changes made to school lunch guidelines can be implemented properly (i.e. to make sure that kids love all the new vegetables on their tray and gobble them up instead of throw them out).
Collaboration also extends to the private sector. Last week, FoodCorps launched our Corporate Council to recognize what’s possible with public-private-partnerships as we work with proven corporate leaders around the collective goal of a healthy future for all children.
To grow a nation of well-nourished children–children who know what healthy food is, how it grows and where it comes from, and who have access to it every day—it will take more than one shovel or spatula or brussels sprout. It means families and schools, public and private leaders, parents and teachers and volunteers, all rolling up our sleeves together.
As the First Lady recently said, “From parents to teachers, doctors to community leaders, everyone is stepping up to make small changes that are having a huge impact – and today, healthy habits are becoming the new norm for our kids. We have a long way to go, but I am more confident than ever that we can give all our children the bright, healthy futures they deserve.”
We couldn’t agree more. To a healthy future!
Debra Eschmeyer is the Co-Founder and Vice President of External Affairs of FoodCorps. March has been designated Healthy Futures month for the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary celebration. To learn more about the celebration, visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary portal.