"We’re growing the next generation of children to care about local food."

Making a connection between where food is grown and the people who grow it gives school children a new way of thinking when it comes to making healthy food choices. To make that connection a part of a child’s everyday experience, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) decided to take an “upstream” approach – integrating local food and farm-based instruction into the course of study for future teachers and dietitians from Western Carolina University (WCU). WCU students selected as Farm to School interns brought that new outlook to children in nine Jackson County elementary schools, with ongoing training and resources provided by (ASAP).

Cultivating the Next Crop of Educators, the ASAP project supported by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, is a partnership between ASAP, Western Carolina University and Jackson County Public Schools. WCU students participated in courses and an on-farm workshop that integrated Farm to School activities and experiential philosophy. Ten WCU students were then selected to provide Farm to School lessons and activities in Jackson County Public Schools. To begin institutionalizing this work, WCU students and professors, along with ASAP staff, met monthly to talk about the benefits and challenges of initiating Farm to School as fledgling teachers and dietitians.

Because she participated in the program as a student teacher, Sarah Malcolm entered her first classroom as a new teacher ready to incorporate classroom cooking, taste testing, gardening and farm field trips as part of her lesson plans and activities. “The more children are exposed to healthy produce on a regular basis at school, the more likely they are to eat it.”

Western Carolina University is working to permanently integrate Farm to School as a component of its pre-service curriculum for educators and dieticians and, through a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, ASAP will expand the program to other universities and community colleges.

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