Education Food Lifestyle

ASAP’s Growing Minds Publishes New Toolkit to Foster Love of Local Food

By Bellamy Crawford

Long-term improvements to unsustainable practices in popular food culture come from inspiring a community’s youngest minds with an engaging, hands-on, local food and agriculture curriculum. This is why Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), an Asheville nonprofit supporting local farmers and building healthy communities through connections to local food, has recently added an additional toolkit to its popular Growing Minds Program.

Burke County Early Head Start garden

“Growing Minds’ mission is to help farm-to-school and farm-to-early-childhood programs thrive by building the capacity of educators, nutrition staff, caregivers and farmers,” says Danielle Raucheisen, program director for Growing Minds. “Our new toolkit will engage these leaders so that they, in turn, can inspire the next generation with local food and farms in the classroom, cafeteria and community.”

“I Tried Local…” A Toolkit for Engaging Kids with Local Food and Farms is designed for use in preschool through second-grade classrooms and focuses on ten North Carolina crops: blueberries, broccoli, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, peppers, radishes, sugar snap peas, sweet corn and watermelons. An accompanying farmer video series is available on the Growing Minds website. The toolkit also offers resources for implementing the core elements of farm to school—gardens, classroom cooking and taste tests, farm field trips and farmer visits, and local foods in meals or snacks.

Beginning in 2002 at Haywood County’s Hazelwood Elementary School, ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to School Program was one of the first in the country. Growing Minds now works with schools across the state and region, helping them to provide farm-to-school experiences to students.

“Last year, we engaged with 170 schools and other organizations, reaching more than 1,000 educators and 20,000 students ranging from preschool to community college,” says Raucheisen. To assess the effectiveness of their farm-to-school curriculum, Growing Minds coordinators send a survey to educators and parents at the end of each school year.

Last year, an elementary school teacher submitted the following feedback: “Many students have shared stories about their grandparents’ gardens, or their own home gardens. This shows students that schools value the same things their families value. Children had the chance to try new things. Some of our kids are very reluctant to try food from the cafeteria, but were very willing to try something they grew.”

As ASAP’s Growing Minds program has grown, so has the national farm-to-school movement. There are now farm-to-school programs operating in all 50 states at more than 42,000 schools.

The “I Tried Local…” toolkit is currently available for free to educators in NC who participate in a virtual training with Growing Minds. A free digital version is available to anyone at growing-minds.org/publications. “I Tried Local…” can be used on its own or alongside Growing Minds’ Farm to Preschool Toolkit, which is also available from the website in both English and Spanish.

For more information, including toolkit training dates, visit Growing-Minds.org or contact GrowingMinds@ASAPConnections.org. ASAP’s annual CSA Fair will be held Friday, March 8, from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at YWCA, 185 South French Broad Avenue, Asheville. If unable to attend, visit ASAPConnections.org/csa for online tools to help compare CSAs throughout the WNC region.

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