What you put in your body really matters. The state of New Mexico has, over the past several years, increased the funding for public schools to purchase and serve students fresh fruits and vegetables. Many districts and charter schools benefit from these funds to support healthy eating. South Valley Prep is one such school.
South Valley Prep, a small charter middle school in Albuquerque, secured Farm to School funding for the first time two years ago. It was at the same time that the school had committed to implementing a schoolwide initiative that supported the health and wellness of the whole child. This initiative went beyond the average physical education and basic health class to include serving teenagers fresh, clean and organic food. Trust me, this is not easy! Convincing teenagers to snack on carrots and turnips instead of Hot Cheetos or to eat salad instead of ramen noodles for lunch – the struggle continues!
However difficult the task, we continue to persist in our commitment and belief that we can positively impact the overall wellness of our students through the food they eat at school and that wellness has a direct impact on the academic and social emotional success of our students. What began with some funding and a field trip to our community farm grew into an explicit collaborative effort to teach our students that what they eat affects more than their physical being. Soon, they began to understand that healthy food means much more than a healthy body; it also means a healthy mind.
The next year, with a little more Farm to School funding from the New Mexico Public Education Department and a little more intentional collaboration with our like-minded partners, Swan Kitchen and La Plazita Institute, South Valley Prep students began to go to the farm on a weekly basis. We were able to collectively include more local fresh fruits and vegetables in our meals. At the farm, students began to plant, tend and harvest much of the fruits and vegetables they see on their plates at school. What hard work that was and what an impact it made on their understanding of our community farmers, traditions and our culture. They began to make connections between the healthy plants that grow in our earth and the healthy things that grow in our lives. They began to understand that weeds can overcome a garden just as unhealthy choices can overwhelm their lives. Powerful stuff!
Each year, the Farm to School investments increase the opportunities our students have to be healthy. The Farm to School funding has allowed our school to make a big difference both within and outside our small school community in so many different ways. Besides the obvious economic benefits, this program has made, and continues to make, a priceless impact on our youth.
I applaud the state for making the Farm to School Program a priority by continuing to fund this initiative. While as educators we continue to work diligently to eliminate obstacles to our students’ success, the Farm to School program continues to foster healthy habits that go well beyond food.