Submitted by: Taylor Hall, Fort HealthCare AmeriCorps Farm to School member
My name is Taylor Hall and I have been serving for two years as the Fort HealthCare AmeriCorps Farm to School (AF2S) member. One of my main roles has been to provide supplementary education in the classroom focused on nutrition and foods grown in Wisconsin. Since 2018, I have worked with 16 classrooms and 387 students in the Whitewater Unified and Palmyra School Districts within Jefferson County. I have also implemented many different types of educational activities for students that encourage healthy eating behaviors. My favorite activity has been teaching students about fruits and vegetables through tastings.
For the 2019-20 school year in the Whitewater Unified School District, I collaborated with Lisa Griep, district Food Service Director, to offer one local food each month either on the lunch menu or as a tasting in the lunchroom at the elementary schools. Some of the locally grown foods provided as a tasting in the lunchrooms included fresh spinach, honey, and mushrooms. Students from Washington, Lincoln, and Lakeview elementary schools sampled the products and then voted on whether they liked it or not by putting a sticker on a chart. We also sent home a monthly newsletter with information on foods tasted, including nutrition information and different ways to eat it.
What surprised me the most with the tastings was that students were more excited to try the foods after they learned the food was local! I really enjoyed watching kids’ faces light up when they tasted something delicious. Pictures from some of the tastings show students sampling fresh, raw mushrooms from River Valley in Burlington; local honey sticks from Kettle Moraine Honey in Whitewater; and fresh spinach that was lightly dressed with a vinaigrette.
The interruption of the school year due to COVID-19 changed plans for the remainder of the school year. One of the strategies of the AF2S program is to implement or help maintain a school garden. Lincoln Elementary school has had a school garden since 2014, which was started by Liesl Hying (also a former AmeriCorps member in 2014-15). Liesl, now the W3 Garden Coordinator, has continued to run the garden and engage students from the classroom and throughout the summer with her Monday Garden Gatherings (unfortunately not this summer due to COVID-19). Although students were not in school this spring, and I was unable to engage with them directly, I continued to help Liesl at the Lincoln Elementary school garden. Additionally, I collaborated with garden leaders in the Whitewater community to create an “At-Home Toolkit” that includes educational activities for students and families to do at home. These materials are free and can be accessed at forthealthcare.com/farmtoschool.
I have continued to work with Liesl and the W3 Gardens Committee to help engage students and community members to learn more about the school garden, as well as other garden spaces in the Whitewater community. The W3 Gardens Committee includes garden leaders and volunteers from the Lincoln Elementary School Garden, UW-Whitewater Campus Garden, UW-Whitewater Children’s Center Garden, and the Whitewater Community Garden. With funding supported by W3 and donations from area businesses, organizations and community members, we worked together to provide “bucket gardens” (20 – 5-gallon buckets with plants), a variety of seedlings (152 tomato, peppers, kale, swiss chard, cabbage, cucumber, and dill), and 80 seed packets to The Community Space for patrons to take home. Additionally, I am helping the committee to organize and develop a number of educational videos featuring the garden spaces, as well as information on composting, basics of gardening, and additional tips and tricks to gardening for W3’s website W3wellness.org.
The AmeriCorps Farm to School Program (AF2S) provides an innovative approach to building healthy communities by improving child nutrition through nutrition education and activities within an educational setting, and by helping to implement local food strategies that encourage healthy behaviors and improve the school food environment. Partners in Jefferson County have been offering the AF2S program since 2014. Fort HealthCare has been the host site for AF2S members since 2017.
I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the Whitewater community for the last two years as an AmeriCorps Farm to School member. Interacting and building relationships with students throughout the community has brought me so much joy. They keep me young at heart and have taught me to look at things differently. Their eagerness to always keep learning is very admirable. I have learned so much these past few years, have met some really great people and will carry these experiences with me onto my next journey, which includes applying to serve communities overseas through the PeaceCorps. My service year will end on August 14th and I look forward to continuing my passion for helping people and learning about the world through hands-on experience.