Iowa farm to school programming blossoms despite pandemic

Chelsea Krist
Iowa State University Extension

AMES, Iowa — In spite of challenges posed by COVID-19, Iowa’s farm to school and early care work has blossomed in 2020. Two statewide coalitions made up of more than 20 organizations merged earlier this year to make the movement even more powerful.

The newly formed Iowa Farm to School and Early Care Coalition recently released its first annual report. The report was written by evaluators with the Farm, Food and Enterprise Development Program of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. FFED staff also serve on the coalition.

Report highlights

More than 200,000 Iowa youth at 1,003 sites participated in farm to school and early care activities in 2019-20.

469 of these sites hosted on-site gardens where students learned to grow, harvest and prepare healthy vegetables.

390 school districts and early care sites bought food from local farmers to serve their youth. They spent more than $500,000 on this food, boosting both healthy eating and the farmers’ bottom line.

Iowa farm to school and early care programs earned $375,494 in grants to support their programs last year.

The coalition and its members created a wide variety of programs to build capacity for more sites to participate in farm to school work. Here’s a sample from 2019-20:

  • 2019 Iowa Local Food Day: On Oct. 11, 2019, more than 280 schools and 10 early care sites around Iowa served at least two locally sourced items at breakfast and lunch, totaling 107,900 meals. Meal participation jumped that day at 33% of sites. All of the participants said they’d do it again this year. (In spite of COVID-19, 61 schools and sites in 35 counties signed up to celebrate local food on Oct. 14. They served 9,700 breakfasts and 41,800 lunches featuring Iowa-grown items.)
  • Farm to early care training series: This virtual training will launch later this fall to educate ECE professionals around the state on farm to ECE and how to implement it at their site. It is led by the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
  • Iowa Nutrition Network school grant program: The program introduces students to healthy foods through an interactive nutrition lesson called Pick a Better Snack. 14,478 children participated at 32 sites, including 30 school gardens and $58,132 in subgrants awarded to local partners. It is led by the Iowa Department of Public Health, funded by SNAP-Ed.

More information on Iowa farm to school and early care programming is available online.