Heather Burt is the Executive Director of FARMS (Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools). FARMS was initially awarded funding through MeHAF's Fund for the Future program in 2009, with a renewal grant awarded in 2012.
With obesity rates and related diseases on the rise and local communities struggling for independent sustainability, FARMS (Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools) offers solutions. Through hands-on education, we are building a generation of educated consumers who are relearning the art of eating locally, healthfully, and with an openness to trying new things. Although FARMS is very lucky to exist in a community where action is taking place on many levels and by many people, we find that we are increasingly being called upon to offer our expertise and team approach to incorporating local foods and garden education into the school systems, camps, and the broader community. Currently FARMS is joining individuals, farmers, medical practitioners, and several small businesses to develop the FARMS Community Kitchen and Food Learning Center, a demonstration kitchen with hands-on programming that meets the needs and interests of a broad range of people. It has become clear to us that in order to ultimately change the eating habits of children, we must simultaneously support healthier eating habits in their community. This year has marked the beginning of many new and exciting opportunities.
Since 2009, virtually free of charge to the schools, FARMS has offered our classroom and cafeteria-wide taste tests, culinary clubs, hands-on garden curriculum, staff enrichment, Healthy Local Snacks Program, and procurement support in the schools of AOS#93 with great success. In addition to the positive feedback from students, staff, and parents, a biannual statewide survey last spring showed that children in this district had increased their fruit and vegetable consumption and were above average for the state. FARMS is proud of these results and believes that the curriculum we offer is making a noticeable difference in the food choices of the children we teach.
Last year, FARMS launched our Farm to School Program in the Wiscasset Primary School. Working in collaboration with The Morris Farm Trust, FARMS was able to offer unique hands-on learning in the environment of a working farm and to further establish a school garden on their property. The Wiscasset principal was amazed by the positive impact "Farm Abby," as the students fondly named Abby Plummer our Farm to School Educator, had in their school. Not only did students rave about their own experiences, but a very supportive administration and food service benefitted from the time Abby spent procuring local foods for the cafeteria. By the end of the year, seven small local farms had been incorporated into that school's purchasing and had benefitted from this new market. FARMS is excited to return to WPS this year and offer additional programming in the Wiscasset Middle School as well.
FARMS is currently working in nine Lincoln County schools, offering nutrition education and taste tests, school garden management and curriculum, culinary clubs, and cafeteria staff support, workshops, and local foods procurement advice. We are excited to work in a growing number of communities. MeHAF funding made it possible for FARMS to get started and establish programming in one school district and the results have been astounding. Ongoing support is starting to come from local residents, small businesses, and grants, and FARMS plans to raise money through cooking and canning classes and other community-building opportunities offered at our Community Kitchen and Food Learning Center in Fall 2013.
FARMS is playing a vital role in building a community of educated consumers and lifelong healthful eaters. Our impact is best described by Brady Hatch, from Morning Dew Farm, who said, "[FARMS'] outreach has resulted not only in better fed, more informed students, but also new economic and community ties that show promise of lasting far into the future." For FARMS, this is about creating long-term positive change for individuals and communities and it depends on education and hands-on experiential learning opportunities that engage and inspire young people to make healthful choices for their bodies, the environment, and the local economy.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." FARMS believes that real change depends on involvement and requires active participation. What do you think, how do you actively involve your communities, and have you had similar experiences in your own work?
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