Safe and Sustainable: From Farm to School

Imagine a place where school children spend their days learning both inside and outside of the classroom; where students can spend time outdoors harvesting bountiful crops of vegetables they have grown themselves, while studying about how they help fuel the human body.

This scenario is real and occurs daily at each of IDEA’s four farm campuses and gardens. The first of these kid-friendly co-ops was founded in 2008 at IDEA Donna with several objectives including educating students about where their food comes from, sustainable farming, and proper nutrition, while also providing healthy food options for schools located in food deserts.

Hernan Colmenero, Child Nutrition Program Farm Manager, heads IDEA’s farm program and says his role has two main responsibilities.

“I oversee the four school farms that we have on school grounds in the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio,” he says. “In addition, I lead the education aspect of collaborating with campus farmers to leverage these outdoor spaces and facilitate hands-on Junior Master Gardener classes for students in grades K-12.”

Food insecurity affects nearly 13 million children in the United States and is an issue many families face in our schools and communities. IDEA’s Child Nutrition Program strives to provide every student with delicious and nutritious meals, with the belief that healthy bodies lead to strong minds.

“What our farm program is doing is essentially giving students who are in historically underserved communities, an opportunity to have access to healthy food for free in their own cafeteria,” he continues.

Working together under the supervision of campus farmers, students spend the school year planting, studying, and harvesting various crops and learning how these crops support a healthy diet. They learn about the history, economics, and power imbalances found in our current food system, as well as developing solutions to these and other related issues such as climate change. From the farms, students grow, care for, wash, pack, and deliver produce to the school cafeterias. To date, IDEA farms have produced 42,984 pounds of fresh produce for school cafeterias and local farmers’ markets.

“The goal here is to enhance our health and well-being, not to take away from it,” says Colmenero. “We want to make sure students understand what health and wellness really means to them and move forward with that knowledge in a way that is sustainable for them throughout the course of their entire lives.”

Proper health and nutrition play a crucial role in IDEA’s mission to make all kids college ready. If children are worried about where their next meal is going to come from, or they are poorly nourished and unhealthy, they may not be focused completely on their studies or be able to pay attention in class.

To keep the program thriving, Colmenero continues to drive the program’s growth and expansion by working with community partners such as food banks in the RGV and San Antonio and working with IDEA’s Advancement Team to apply for grants and funding.

Though the farm program is still in its infancy, Colmenero knows its impact reaches far beyond each individual campus and it doesn’t end with the students.

“Food is everything. It’s what connects us to other human beings. It’s essentially the foundation of what makes us us,” he says. “If we can instill positive eating habits in our students, they have the potential to impact parents, maybe even be passed to extended family who will hear about how awesome this program is, and how good food is directly related to good health…Who knows how far the message can spread?”

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