Monday, October 7, 2013

An EGGcelent Start

A proud Laverne in her new home. Photo courtesy of CT.
Harp Elementary has six new teachers: Rosalita, Gertrude, Matilda, Laverne, Shirley and Lucy, our chickens. Classes take turns caring for the chickens, and our three weeks with them have been full of feathery fun. Yesterday a student spotted our first egg, a milestone we celebrated with the Chicken Dance! Harp Elementary School in Springdale, a new FoodCorps site this year, educates almost 650 students, many of whom speak English as a second language. The majority of our students are Hispanic or Pacific Islanders.

The school already has a large garden, founded by teacher Courtney Erickson last year. With 73% of our students qualifying for free and reduced lunches, our ultimate goal is to ensure that each student receives the nutrients and knowledge necessary to extend healthy eating habits beyond the halls of Harp into their homes. I wake up wondering how I am going to do that and fall asleep confident we will exceed our goals because the staff is supportive and the students are eager. The teachers at Harp are innovative leaders, and I am privileged to serve at their sides. We envision a school with a small orchard, native plants garden, green house, outdoor classroom, more chickens, family cooking classes and local food in the cafeteria.

Service member and site supervisor celebrate the first egg 
from their school chickens! Destiny is on the 
left and supervisor CT pictured on the right. 
Photo courtesy of Harp Elementary! 

I facilitate a 45 minute science club for the Harp Kindergarteners every day. Though my classes revolve around nutrition, many subjects are incorporated to maximize students’ learning experiences and excitement! You can find us in the garden on scavenger hunts, preparing soil for fall crops, decorating plates with healthy food rainbows, and singing and reading stories about vegetables. Grades first through fifth have also welcomed me into their classrooms.

Destiny digs in to prep garden beds with her students at Harp.
None of this is to say that our project is easy. It is difficult to decide what goal to tackle first and to create productive fun curriculum. Education is not a job you can leave behind when you go home; we never stop generating ideas for our garden program. But the rewards are so grand that you never want to escape your work.  On my FoodCorps profile it says my love for local food is “as thick as my Southern accent.”  This year FoodCorps serves in 15 states, and I chose to serve in my home state of Arkansas -  often underrated, with a lot of potential. I look forward to guiding its youth towards a healthier future and working with the invaluable farmers that give my state so much charm.  Here at Harp we are not just growing crops; we are growing a strong community full of happy, healthy kids (and chickens, too)!

If you're wild about Harp Elementary's Community garden, you can find more tales of chickens, kids, and food on their facebook page:

-- by Destiny Schlinker

Friday, October 4, 2013

Arkansas Welcomes New Crop of FoodCorps Service Members

Five new FoodCorps service members came together September 18-20 at the National Center for Appropriate Technology's Southeast Regional Office in Fayetteville, Ark., for training, skill sharing, and team building in preparation for the 2013-2014 service year. Southeast Regional Office Director Margo Hale and FoodCorps Arkansas Fellow Rachel Spencer led new FoodCorps service members Sean Coder, Destiny Schlinker, Jenn Warren, Kelsie Shearrer, and Cecilia Hernandez in orientation sessions and hands-on activities at service sites in Fayetteville, Springdale, and Marshall.

Service members lead the Green Team at Asbell Elementary
in Fayetteville in planting cover crops. 
Hands-on activities included creating vegetable super-heroes with a fifth grade class at Harp Elementary in Springdale and preparing a garden bed, learning about soil, harvesting carrots, and planting a cover crop with the Green Team/Garden Club at Asbell Elementary in Fayetteville. Service members also visited the new community garden at Bayyari Elementary in Springdale and participated in a garden leaders meeting at Happy Hollow Elementary in Fayetteville. On Friday, the team made the two-hour trip east to Marshall, where they started seeds and prepared garden beds at Marshall High School.

“Our orientation was a great way to come together as a state team and learn about where each of our members is serving, as well as grow stronger as a cohort. I am excited to see the impact our service members will make this year,” said Hale.

Kelsie, Cecilia, and Destiny learn tips for talking nutrition
with kids from "Organ Andy" and Agent Julie.
Washington County Extension Agent Berni Kurz presented a session on gardening in Arkansas—an important topic, since only one of the five service members is an Arkansas native. During their visit to Marshall, FoodCorps service members met with Searcy County Extension Agent Julie Blair for training in nutrition education. Partnering with other local agencies and organizations is crucial in building and sustaining Farm to School programs, and the team left orientation eager to cultivate community support for their efforts.

In that spirit of partnership (and appreciation for good food), NCAT also hosted a community potluck for the service members so they could meet representatives from several local organizations working in sustainable agriculture and garden-based education, as well as other AmeriCorps members and alumni. 

We have a good feeling about this year. Stay tuned!

We stopped for some quality lunch in Leslie, AR. 
NCAT has served as the Arkansas Host Site for FoodCorps since 2012. To learn more about our host site, visit

by Robyn Metzger (NCAT), 
adapted by Rachel Spencer