The Power of a Local Pear


Le Adams

 

It was a very good year for pears and the other tree fruit. The grower picked them, and after careful cleaning, sorting and packing, they made a short trip to a snack program in an Albuquerque school. They arrived ready, as a special treat for everyone in the school.

Seven-year-old Maria was enrolled in Mrs. Sanchez’s first grade class at a South Valley school. She was a good student and always ready to learn. She was very happy to get a morning snack in class. Breakfast was so long ago, and that bin of beautiful yellow fruit looked good.

The class was quiet except for the comments of “Yummy!” and “It’s so juicy!” and “It’s so sweet!” Mrs. Sanchez shared all the information that she had about those pears—who grew them and how full of nutrition they were.

When the rest of the class was cleaning up, Mrs. Sanchez noticed that, unlike the rest of the children, Maria had not eaten her pear. “What’s the matter, Maria? Don’t you want to eat your pear?” she asked. Maria answered quietly because she knew she was doing something against the rules. “Please teacher, I would like to take this pear home to share with my little brother. He has never seen a pear before, and I know that he would like it too.” Mrs. Sanchez did some rule-breaking of her own. She let Maria take the pear home. For after all, isn’t learning to share with and nurture others one of the very important life-lessons we want to teach our first graders?

The Challenge – There are food needs in every community. Most children (and their parents) don’t eat the suggested number of fruit and vegetables per day—that’s five to eight, or half of every meal plate. Many adults really don’t do much cooking at home. The overweight and obesity numbers in our country are at crisis levels, and diet-related diseases in children are skyrocketing. It appears that this may be the first generation of children whose lifetimes will be shorter than their parents.

The Solution – Solutions such as Farm to School initiatives are now happening throughout the country. In part, with the aid of the National Farm to School Network, over 12,000 schools in the US have Farm to School programs. Farm to Table, as lead Farm to School organization in the Southwest, sponsored 32 programs in the past two years. These programs are popping up everywhere.

 

What is “Farm to School?”

Farm to School has two parts: the eating part and the education part. Some farm-to-school programs are focused only on the eating part. That is, farmers, school food service personnel or even groups of people work together to bring locally-produced foods to school cafeterias.

The other part of Farm to School is made up of a myriad of educational possibilities. Whether it is culinary education (great local programs such as Cooking with Kids and Kids Cook), nutrition education such as ICAN and KidsCAN from the County Extension Service, programming from the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute, school gardens organized by PTAs, local community groups, volunteer groups, afterschool groups and others—or farmers visiting classrooms, field trips to farms, and school or community events that focus on healthy eating—all of these types of programs help raise awareness of where our food comes from, what is a healthy diet and the importance of agriculture to our future.

These two halves are the essence of Farm to School programs. Combine educational events with the tasting of fresh local produce; do this as often as possible, and we will change the way children relate to the food that sustains them. Just like the incredible increase of farmers’ markets in this country reflects a real desire to eat well and connect to our farming roots, this rise in Farm to School programming speaks to many of the same deep needs.

Programs that include time for children to work in school or community gardens, or time to go on field trips to nearby farms can and do inspire a new generation of farmers. These programs can teach proper nutrition and provide children with an opportunity to experience the wonder of watching a tiny seed burst with life and grow to be something to nurture and to eat. Where better than a school garden to explore science, math, culture, language arts and life? Farm to School programs in our schools and communities can teach us all to make better food choices, find the skills to cook fresh healthy food, and get on a healthier path to the future.

How can you get involved? Contact any of the many groups and individuals in NM who are focused on improving our children’s health (See sidebar). State agencies, policymakers and policy councils are making this a priority. Many community service organizations, local and national funders have declared that improving children’s health is their main priority. There are citizen groups in almost every community striving to “bring the farm to the school” in a myriad of ways. Now is the time to get involved in the issue of our next generation’s health. Our future really does depend on it.

And it could all start with just one pear — perfectly ripe, juicy and sweet.

 

Le Adams is a farmer and educator. She founded Farm to Table with Pam Roy and directs the nonprofit organization’s Farm to School Program. She also focuses on liaison work with FoodCorps and the National Farm to School Network, and provides training and technical assistance to groups just starting their farm to school programs and to farmers in business planning and marketing. Email: le@farmtotablenm.org

 

Statistics: The Bad and the Good

 

(Negative:)

 

  • New Mexico is in danger of raising the first generation of children with a lower life expectancy than their parents.
  • More than one in four children in NM are considered food insecure and many depend on school meals for their main meals of their day.
  • Thirty-two percent of NM children are either overweight or obese.NM ranks 33rd in children’s health and 32nd in education. The prevalence of overweight and obese children in the state has risen since 2003.
  • One in every three children in our country is considered overweight or obese. Obesity rates in children tripled over the past three decades.
  • The new USDA federal rule, based on legislation, and requiring more servings of fruits and vegetables, is estimated to cost an additional 10 cents for each reimbursable lunch and 27 cents for each reimbursable breakfast. Yet, the anticipated federal share for this food cost is six cents per meal.
  • The food and beverage industry spends $2 billion (out of a $10 billion advertising budget) marketing food to children.
  • Kids aged 2-11 see an average of 13 food ads per day, mainly promoting unhealthy foods.

 

(Positive:)

 

  • The more we eat fruits and vegetables, the less likely we are to be overweight, obese and develop diet-related diseases like diabetes.
  • There are close to 328,000 NM children who have the potential to benefit from participating in the school lunch program; 237,450 NM children have been served NM-grown produce in 2012.
  • When schools purchase NM-grown produce, they are helping local agriculture by enlarging the market for fruit and vegetables here in the state.
  • Currently, 60 schools and school districts purchase NM-grown produce. This number has more than quadrupled in 2012.
  • If every student in New Mexican schools ate two servings of NM-grown produce per week, about $6 million would go to NM producers.
  • For the 2012 school year, Farm to Table alone has been instrumental in selling over 200,000 lbs of produce to schools, totaling about $110,000 in sales to farmers. NM growers have cumulatively sold an estimated $500,000 of produce to schools.
  • Already, almost half of NM’s 108 school districts are purchasing from NM farmers.
  • In 2007 and recurring in subsequent years, legislation provided $85,000 annually for NM-grown produce for school meals for the Valley Cluster schools in Albuquerque, serving approximately 6,000 students in grades K–12.
  • What produce are students eating that is NM-grown? Apples, bell peppers, cantaloupe, cucumbers, honeydew, onions, peaches, plums, potatoes, salad greens, spinach, tomatoes, watermelons and zucchini.
  • New Mexican farming families are primed to provide additional produce to the schools. Schools provide a stable, consistent market, providing farmers with a reliable source of income.
  • State and local economies will benefit from these purchases, as with every dollar earned by a NM farmer, another $1.80 is invested in the local economy.
  • This is a win-win for NM—as the market develops for NM-grown produce in schools, fruit- and vegetable-growers’ incomes will rise and our children’s overall health and academic performance will improve.