FoodCorps Brings A Whole New Meaning to ‘Food Service’

March 18, 2013

When Amoreena Treff was teaching in classrooms, she began to notice a big problem and wanted to do something about it.

When Amoreena Treff was teaching in classrooms, she began to notice a big problem and wanted to do something about it. As a Teach For America corps member from 2004 to 2006, she began picking up on what her students were eating in the cafeteria and how the lunch system worked. However, as she needed to focus on classroom learning, she couldn’t dedicate time to working on solving the matter of school food. In 2011, while living in Corvallis, Oregon, she saw a flier advertising FoodCorps, a year-long paid service program that's part of the AmeriCorps network, whose mission is to connect children to real food and set them on the path for a healthy life. “I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do, exactly what I wanted to get involved with,” she says.

FoodCorps service members work primarily in three areas: teaching kids about healthy food and where it comes from, building and tending school gardens with the students, and working with cafeteria workers and local farmers.

“We’re at a critical juncture with childhood health,” says Jerusha Klemperer, Communications Director for FoodCorps. “One in three children is on track to developing some kind of diet-related disease. Impact on their families and on us as a society, economically, culturally. Childhood health is a really important prerogative. Children are getting more than half their daily calories at school, so when you can change school food, you change lives.”

Klemperer says these farm-to-school components are interdependent and essential for the function of each one. “You can’t just teach kids about healthy food and not give them a hands-on experience about where it comes from or opportunities to taste it,” she says. Education is a key piece of the puzzle to changing what young people eat and encouraging them to try new things. If a change can be made at school, she says, it can change the students.

The building and cultivation of school gardens is an essential component of the FoodCorps program. In the past year, service members have built more than 200 gardens, providing some food for the cafeteria or donating the food to local food banks and hunger programs, adding another layer of community involvement. So far, these gardens have yielded more than 20,000 pounds of produce.

Treff began her service in August of 2011 with the Corvallis Environmental Center and the School Garden Project in nearby Eugene, Ore., but now works exclusively with the former in her second year of service. Like many service members, her work is primarily focused on educational programs, with the rest devoted to supporting Farm-to-School procurement efforts. The Farm-to-School coordinator for FoodCorps also spends time working on institutional purchasing as the children try new foods.

Specifically, Treff helps support three of FoodCorps’ educational programs. The largest is Tasting Tables, a monthly school cafeteria sampling of a fresh, local fruit or vegetable. She says students have not only responded favorably to the opportunity to sample kale chips, rutabagas and other items they may not eat at home, but parents have responded that children are now asking for different produce items by name.

At FoodCorps, Treff also helps run smaller and more hands-on, engaging food education programs, including Farm Field Trips, where classes visit a one-acre production garden managed by Corvallis Environmental Center to get their hands dirty, planting, tending and harvesting food fresh from the garden. Food Adventures in the Classroom is a dynamic class visit that combines preparation of local, healthy snacks with learning standards.. Last week, Treff and her class made kale and beet smoothies, and because the lesson was engaging and fun, nearly all the students tried it. She says one of the students, excited about the new concoction, offered the best review: “I liked the kale in the smoothie because it made my taste buds jingle!”

“When you expose kids to healthy foods in a way that’s fun and not intimidating and make it a fun experience, the kids naturally gravitate towards it and get really excited about it,” Treff says. “When you provide that experience for them, they’re going to love it, and it becomes a part of their daily routine.”

FoodCorps is now accepting applications for corps members for 2013-2014. Applications are due March 31, and you can visit their website for more information.