Thursday, November 21, 2013

Food Waste is B-a-n-a-n-a-s

After conducting a school wide food audit at Bayyari Elementary School, I would say that we are well on our way to producing some of the healthiest school trash cans around.  

On October 22nd, about forty-five 5th grade students arrived to school a little earlier than usual so that they could have a chance to eat breakfast and begin preparing for Bayyari Elementary’s first food waste audit. The idea for a food waste audit came to me on my first day of service as I was helping out in the school cafeteria. Being new to Bayyari, I was pleasantly surprised as I stood next to the cafeteria’s salad bar watching student after student serve themselves an “all you can eat” helping of fresh fruits and vegetables. I did not know it then, but a few minutes later those immaculate pieces of fruits and veggies would be in the trash. By the end of the lunch period I was shocked at all the produced that was thrown away.

Surely this had to have been a bad day, I thought to myself. The next day I checked in again only to find that hundreds of students were throwing away whole, unpeeled bananas! After talking to some of the cafeteria staff and teacher monitors, I found out that students had to take the bananas to fulfill their federal fruit requirement for the day. I was not the only one who felt unsettled by the cafeteria food waste. Coincidently, I had just meet Rob Moore, an Environmental Educator from Boston Mountain Solid Waste District, who had worked with Bayyari’s Gifted and Talented students the year prior. We discussed the food waste issue and ultimately started to plan the food waste audit.

These kids weren't afraid to get their hands dirty!
Rob and I wanted this audit to be a learning experience about food waste, so we decided to incorporate the food data that we collected in a math lesson. Eight days before the actual audit, we met with the students to explain the
food waste issue and talk about their role. Two days after that we performed a visual audit of both breakfast and lunch programs to get a better sense of how we needed to structure our food collection during the audit. 
Finally, our food audit day had arrived and the kids were ready to take on the challenge - fully equipped with plastic gloves, heavy-duty trash bags, and luggage scales. 

After the students collected the food, they then sorted and determined the pounds of food waste at breakfast that morning. They separated the waste into three piles: Trash, Food, and Milk. Directly following our morning collection, the students went off to class while Rob and I set up the bins and trash bags for the food waste collection at lunch. At the end of the day, I created a display of some of the food that was still "untouched" for some students and staff to see. When I rolled in the cart with the display of food, many of the students became excited and thought I had
brought them snacks to eat. Some students even thought we were going to do a cooking lesson. When I finally told them that the food was recovered from the cafeteria trash bins, they were upset. The students were even more confused when they realized that due to health code regulations, we could not give the food away. These realizations led to a rich discussion with my 5th grade class about food waste, composting, landfills, poverty/food insecurity, and gleaning. In the end, the kids worked hard to collect the “waste.” Together we learned some valuable lessons, but the results were more bitter than sweet.

In our day of food waste collection at the school, we gathered the following data (a majority of which was calculated in a 5th grade math lesson):

Food: 40 lbs.
Milk:  231 unopened milk cartons
Food: 180lbs
Milk:   75.4 lbs (liquid milk separated from the carton by students at lunch)

The food waste in pounds may or may not seem like much for a day, but when replicated over a year, or a student’s 6-year (k-5th grade) elementary career, the numbers escalate very quickly.

Food Waste over 1 year at Bayyari Elementary School:
Food: 7,200 lbs.
Milk:   41,580 unopened milk cartons
Food: 32,400 lbs
Milk:   13,572 lbs (liquid milk separated from the carton by students at lunch)

Food Waste over a 6 year span of the typical elementary student (K-5th grade):
Food: 143,200 lbs.
Milk:   249,480 unopened milk cartons
Food: 194,400 lbs
Milk:   122,148 lbs (liquid milk separated from the carton by students at lunch)

For one day, at one school, with 640 students, we collected enough milk and food to feed several of the families in the community that are struggling with food insecurity. At Bayyari Elementary alone, roughly 95% of the families qualify for free or reduced school meals.

It is hard to come up with a decent response when several of the students ask why it is against “regulations” to redistribute “untouched & unopened” food and milk cartons to families in need.

I have always had a passion for reforming our food system, and this food audit is another small insight to a complex problem. Although the students, staff and I were baffled by the data, I see opportunity for change in their bitter reactions to the results. I hear creativity in action when my 5th grade students talking about solution. Working with food service staff to plan cafeteria taste tests to help students appreciate healthy produce revitalizes my spirits.

Check back for updates on how we’re serving in Springdale, Arkansas to create healthier student bodies - not healthier school trash cans.

- by Cecilia Hernandez

Monday, November 11, 2013

Juggling with Grace

 Hello out there my fellow FoodCorps humans in Internetland! 

Have you ever felt a little overwhelmed? I know I have, especially lately. We can all get comfortable with routine and start to take the consistency and mundane for granted. Moving to Fayetteville, Arkansas and starting my position, as a FoodCorps Service Member has certainly given me a new appreciation for consistency and mundane that I can access when it seems that everything else is change.

Fayetteville is a beautiful place to re-locate, especially in late summer. I was lucky to walk into a still-sweaty summer with two school gardens in full bloom. Both Owl Creek School and Holt Middle School were well maintained and bursting with fresh fruit, veggies and herbs thanks to the efforts of the community, including previous FoodCorps Arkansas service members Ally and Sophia.

Now that you’re here with me, nestled in the beautiful Ozark hills of Fayetteville, allow me to take you through the valleys of my challenges, up the hills of my triumphs and ultimately to the top of the hill, where clarity comes during sunsets.

I have been tasked with curriculum integration in the three area middle schools, co-leading 2 after-school garden clubs that meet weekly, maintaining and expanding two existing school gardens and breaking ground on a third. This all seemed so straightforward in the job description, and really it is pretty clear. The factor I didn’t originally take fully into account was just how to go about doing this. I had ideas of what it all would look like, but didn’t fully know what to expect. This said, I have had a quick and busy introduction to exactly what this description is all about.

Since starting in my new position, with the Fayetteville Public School’s Sustainability Office, I have been working feverishly on the previously described tasks and goals. What does it look like to integrate a garden, food and nutrition into curriculum? So far it’s been a joy and a little nerve wracking at the same time. I have had the privilege to step into three classrooms and host one in the garden, now just over two months into my service.

I’ve co-taught two 5th grade science classes about “The Compost Pile as an Ecosystem” and vermicomposting, also known as worm composting. I have co-taught one 7th grade Social Studies class about the connection of Ancient Egyptian farming of grains to modern day, with a focus on labor, nutrition and social organization. Finally, I had the privilege of co-teaching a Read-180 class, a reading intervention program for struggling readers, about migrant farmworkers as it pertained to their class on immigration.

Sean leads an apple tasting for F2S month.
 What does co-leading garden clubs look like? So far, I’ve been lucky to walk into the two previously mentioned beautiful and well-maintained school gardens. Both Holt and Owl Creek schools have after-school garden clubs, though they look quite different. Holt’s club is led by the fearless 6th grade science and social studies teacher, Justin Leflar. Justin has been great to work with because he is so passionate and dedicated to Holt’s garden and community. The garden has aptly been named “Holt Community Garden”.

Co-leading this club has been exciting and tiring at times. Justin has done a great job of communicating and helping me to relax when I get wound up about making the perfect cooking lesson for 5th-7th graders. So far, I’ve led lessons both in the garden and kitchen, drafting up a weekly 101 of a new topic or re-enforcing a skill taught previously.

Owl Creek’s club looks different from Holt’s, as we have an age range of 2nd-7th graders. This range should not be taken for granted when planning for a club meeting – it necessitates a very strategic approach in planning. Providing a fulfilling experience for both a 2nd grader that has never seen a garden and a seasoned 7th grader that has been in Lisa Richardson’s 5th grade science class and has known about compost for 2 whole years is indeed a challenge. It’s been a joy to work with Lisa ,who co-leads the club with myself and another community member from Apple Seeds, Eden Stewart. It’s been a joy to work with Lisa, learning again my most valued and consistent lessons thus far, clear communication, patience and confidence that it will all work out.

Leading a vermicomposting lesson.
 Maintaining the gardens, adding on and eventually breaking ground on a third are tasks in and of themselves that require observation of what already exists, considering the potential, and working towards that potential daily. Check back for updates on just what maintaining, expanding and breaking ground on school gardens looks like. 

For now, I will leaf (pun-intended) you with visions of the beautiful explosion of fall colors blanketing these ancient hills of Northwest Arkansas. Soon the leaves will crunch to the touch. It seems that reminding myself of this natural beauty, at sunset each night, is the key to keeping everything else in order.

- By Sean Coder

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fresh Salad for Food Day!

Jenn prepares salad for the health fair.
This season in the Marshall Educational Garden we have a wonderful variety of leafy greens and root vegetables flourishing in our greenhouse. To celebrate Food Day this week, FoodCorps Service member Jenn and her students harvested carrots and arugula to create a vibrant and delicious salad to share with their community at Marshall’s Health Fair. The sweet carrots and peppery arugula made a wonderful salad paired with salty parmesan cheese, tangy cranberries, buttery pecans, and topped with a mouth-watering ginger honey vinaigrette! Not only is this salad a very tasty dish, it is full of vitamins and nutrients.

Ingredients that pack a punch!
  • GINGER: improves absorption & assimilation of nutrients in your body, clears your sinuses, eases nausea, reduces flatulence, soothes joint pain, relieves stomach cramps. 
  • ARUGULA: contains a multitude of nutrients and antioxidants that regulate immune function and play a role in cancer prevention. 
  • CARROTS: protect your vision, is good for your teeth, reduces the risk of stroke, and is full of nutrients and antioxidants

Carrot Arugula Salad
      1 bunch arugula, torn into large pieces, about 4 cups
      2 tablespoons olive oil
      1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
      2 teaspoons grated ginger
      1 to 2 tablespoons raw agave nectar or honey, to taste
      1/4 teaspoon sea salt
      3 cups peeled and grated carrot
      1/4 cup dried cranberries or currants
      1 cup shaved parmesan cheese
      Handful pecans, chopped
  1. Place the arugula and carrots in a mixing bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, ginger, agave nectar, and salt until well combined. 
  2. Pour over the arugula and gently toss until all of the leaves are coated. Serve this arugula salad topped with the parmesan cheese, cranberries, and pecans.


-By Jenn Warren

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Day in the Life: Fayetteville Fall Edition

Ally is a fellow dietitian and basically my Farm-to-School hero.
At 6:30am, before even the sun shows its face to Fayetteville, I park out behind Owl Creek School.  Ally, a previous FoodCorps member, now a consultant for Fayetteville’s Farm-to-School program pulls up right after me and we enter into the school’s kitchen.  A pleasant cafeteria staff welcomes us as they work diligently to get a warm breakfast prepared for the students.  As we set up our graciously appointed corner of the kitchen we find sharp knives and clean cutting boards for our work processing fresh local peppers that we plan to vacuum seal and freeze for “Educational Lunch” events we will put on in November for middle schools in Fayetteville.  We slice green pepper strips for an hour before I notice it is time to head to my next event for the day.

Luke and Dana sorting the research.
Although I feel bad leaving Ally to cut peppers alone, I welcome the break and the chance to tour the University of Arkansas (U of A) Research Farm. Once there, I meet up with my co-service member Sean and my supervisor Dana, the sustainability coordinator for Fayetteville Public Schools. Luke, a Program Technician for the berry research going on with the U of A Farm, joins us as well.  Luke shows us the raspberries and blackberries that we are to help pick as part of the high tunnel research.
Students love the raspberries; some tried them for the first time! 
While picking we record the time as well as yield for each variety. Once the field trials are finished, U of A will compare these numbers between berries grown under a high tunnel and those grown in open farmland right next to the tunnel.  Luke says I can eat the berries growing in between the research rows so I taste test as I go.  They had a few different varieties of berries growing which was a treat, because I’m used to “fresh or frozen” not “Nantahala or Autumn Bliss.”  Two hours later we finish up our farm tour/volunteer session and Luke informs me that I can use the raspberries for my 4th and 5th grade garden club at Asbell Elementary. We planned to plant berry bushes this week, making this berry snack a perfect addition!

Planting 4 blueberry bushes at Asbell.
As I drive back toward Owl Creek, one of the other farm researchers stops me and offers me a huge brown bag full of apples for free!  With apples in my tote, I park and chop pepper with Ally for two more hours.  We lay the slices on sheet pans to avoid clumping and place them in the walk-in freezer to fully freeze before we vacuum seal them tomorrow.  The rest of the service day includes planning for garden club tomorrow and making sure the guest “fruit-growing expert” Guy Ames from our state host site, the National Center for Appropriate Technology knows all of the details before tomorrow’s meeting.
Kelsie bring berries, smiles, and nutritional
super powers to the kids of Asbell.

I end my day with sore wrists and berry stained hands, going around to my apartment “neighbors” handing out grocery bags of apples (a great way to make friends in my new Fayetteville home!).  A month and a half in, and I am so thankful for my FoodCorps position. I love the balance between planning and hands-on service, and I relish the days like this one where I can use my quick knife skills and feed my passion for agriculture. 

High tunnel raspberries and blackberries at the U of A.

by Kelsie Shearrer