A cookie or an apple? French fries or sweet potato wedges? Healthy eating choices may get easier for children in New Jersey, Hawaii and California this summer.
Pending funding from AmeriCorps, FoodCorps hopes to add those three states to the 12 states where the group currently operates, giving it up to 130 service members in 15 states next school year. FoodCorps is a national nonprofit organization that is part of the AmeriCorps service network. It seeks to reduce the country’s childhood obesity epidemic by placing motivated leaders in limited-resource communities for a year of public service.
Once in place, service members connect kids to healthy food through education, by building and tending school gardens and by bringing nutritious food from local farms into school cafeterias. Service members are currently carrying out that mission in Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oregon. “We’d like to be in all 50 states by 2020, but growth is very much contingent upon being able to find funding and the right partners in each state,” said Jerusha Klemperer, FoodCorps communications director.
“Think of FoodCorps as a Peace Corps for food,” said Debra Eschmeyer , a dairy farmer’s daughter who co-founded FoodCorps in the fall of 2010. She serves as its director of Partnerships and Policy, and she won a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award in October 2011 for her work in several areas of school food reform, including her work with FoodCorps.
The efforts of FoodCorps and other groups to reverse the country’s childhood obesity epidemic by changing the dietary landscape for thousands of schoolchildren is part of a broad national movement called Farm to School or F2S. Those efforts are coming at a critical time.
America has an alarming number of children who are either obese and overweight or hungry — and at the same time, Eschmeyer told a Georgia Organics statewide summit in Atlanta last month. “FoodCorps addresses the root cause of both,” she said, “which is access to healthy food.”
A 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that about 17 percent, or 12.5 million children and adolescents aged 2-19 in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 1980, obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled, according to the survey.
There are significant racial and ethnic disparities in obesity among U.S. children and adolescents, the survey found. In 2007-2008, Hispanic boys, aged 2 to 19, were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white boys, and non-Hispanic black girls were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white girls.
The Farm to School movement is not directed by any single nonprofit organization or top-down government agency. Rather, Farm to School is a grassroots movement led by groups such as FoodCorps, state and federal agencies and individuals such as parents, educators and members of local gardening groups in communities across the country. Active in all 50 states, Farm to School programs seek to bring regionally produced foods into K-12 school cafeterias, involve children in hands-on learning through participation in school gardens, farm visits and culinary classes, integrate food-related education into the regular, standards-based classroom curriculum and support local and regional farmers.