Virtual Farm Field Trips Fill Gap of Farm to School Opportunities
As one of the writers and developers of Harvest of the Month, I’ve seen it used in many creative ways since its launch by the Network for a Healthy California in 2005. Harvest of the Month features such innovative and flexible resources, and it is always encouraging to see local programs in California take it to new levels to work best for the youth in their communities. One of my favorites came about in 2010 by a group of California schools facing a challenging problem that required a cost-effective, engaging and educational solution for their students.
Their students were participating in Harvest of the Month, a nutrition education program designed to motivate and empower students to increase consumption and enjoyment of fruits and vegetables. At the same time, they wanted to enhance these efforts by participating in a Farm to School program that connects local farms to local schools to teach students the value of eating healthy meals at school, improving nutrition, and learning more about agriculture, nutrition and health while developing relationships with local and regional farmers.
But with increasing budget cuts in a down economy, funds for student field trips to visit local farms were greatly restricted. And, it was difficult to get local farmers to leave their farms to come to the classroom.
The Sierra Cascade Nutrition and Activity Consortium (SCNAC) came up with a creative solution that has been a big hit among students and teachers alike. They’ve created several short videos – virtual farm field trips – along with Farmer of the Month newsletters to help students understand connections between agriculture and the critical role of fruits and vegetables in healthy eating habits.
The first Farmer of the Month video showcased a local apple farmer during the fall apple harvest. Students saw him harvest the apples, process, store and transport them to local markets. Students came up with their own questions to ask the farmer. Information about apples from the Harvest of the Month newsletters was incorporated into the video. And an original song was written and recorded gratis by a local artist for the video. A second video about a local carrot farmer was released in the spring of 2011, and a third video about a local asparagus farmer is in production.
These virtual farm field trips have been used widely, and many students have sent handwritten thank you notes to the farmers. Knowing where their food comes from has helped students develop healthier eating habits. To see the Farmer of the Month videos, visit www.scnac.org/nodes/programs/harvestofmonth.htm#FarmeroftheMonth. To download Harvest of the Month materials, including the newsletters, visit www.harvestofthemonth.cdph.ca.gov.
Allyson Conwell, Project Director at GALEWiLL Design, has been working with Harvest of the Month since its inception in 2005. Allyson led the content development and production of all materials created by the Network for a Healthy California, and works closely with a team of registered dietitians, health and nutrition education specialists, as well as local agencies who implement Harvest of the Month programs. Allyson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.