Farm to School News

Statewide Farm to School Collaboration

The Arkansas Farm to School team gathered with a group of state agency and organization partners in August of 2017 to build a statewide platform for collaboration on promotion, programs, and participation.  The Access to Healthy Foods Research Group at Arkansas Children’s Research Institute saw a need to broaden the existing connections between organizations to support the continuous development that farm to school needs.  These supporting organizations include a few that one might not initially expect, but whose contributions keep farm to school alive.

Nick Stevens, a Clinton School of Public Service graduate student, has spent the last two years working on projects with the Access to Healthy Foods Research Group.  As part of his final Capstone Project for his Master of Public Service degree from the Clinton School of Public Service, Nick worked on creating the initial structures, frameworks and buy-in of the group, as well as facilitated the meetings.  The collaboration currently consists of representatives from several major state agencies such as the Department of Human Services, Arkansas Agriculture Department, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, the Department of Health, and organizations in the state.  Each organization is already invested in farm to school and its continuous development in various ways and has been promoting farm to school at a statewide level.  Bringing them together on a regular basis will foster coordination and collaboration.

Coordinating these many individuals for monthly meetings requires patience and compromise, however.  “Having so many people makes it very time-consuming to agree upon a common vision and agenda,” says Stevens, who has been facilitating the gatherings.  A recent graduate, Nick has said goodbye to the farm to school group but hopes they can continue without him to work together to have state and regional farm to school conferences and build a more formal farm to school network in the state.  The end goal is to promote farm to school with one united voice that carries into the future. 

Farm to School at Yellville-Summit

By Katherine Quinn, Garden Program Specialist, Agriculture Teacher at Yellville-Summit School District

Farm to school at Yellville-Summit School District, a K-12 rural district, is working toward the integration of all aspects necessary for a successful program: garden-based learning, school gardening, and sourcing of local products within school food service. Hands-on experiential learning, especially in a garden setting, elevates the learning environment for students where they are tasked with not only understanding the content but also demonstrating their knowledge through performance tasks. When this phenomenon occurs, students begin the process of learning to "read the world."

In our outdoor learning spaces, which consist of a 22 raised bed demonstration garden, a 30' x 48' high tunnel, a 1,800 sq ft Agriculture Education greenhouse, and a schoolyard habitat/outdoor classroom, teachers have a variety of options for exploring core curricula outside the traditional classroom. Currently, over half of our elementary students participate in garden-based learning. Teachers utilize the garden spaces in three distinct ways: as a place for physical activity through the development of gardening skills (adopting beds); as a place to explore Science content in real time through observing, but not overseeing garden beds; or as a project-based learning opportunity (i.e. rabbit chores, worm farm, etc).  These options give teachers flexibility in their level of commitment in the garden. They also provide diverse opportunities for students to practice academic, personal, and social skills.

As the Garden Program Specialist and Agriculture Teacher, I have found it valuable to provide professional development for fellow teachers in sourcing relevant curricula, gardening techniques, and outdoor classroom management strategies to foster confidence in this atypical learning endeavor. Easy access to resources and lesson material is critical for the success of Garden-Based Learning. Standards-based lessons in Science, Math, Language Arts, History, Health/Nutrition, Art, and Agriculture content areas can all be integrated into a school garden learning experience.

There are a lot of free lesson plans online and great curriculum available for purchase in book format. Content worthy of exploring outdoors:

  • Math - shapes, measurement, addition, subtraction, fractions, data recording/analysis
  • Language Arts - short stories, reflections, procedural writing, early literacy, poems
  • Science - plant and life sciences are always a good fit! Photosynthesis, ecological interactions, structures/functions, weather, water cycle

More resources are available at the Garden Based-Learning Curriculum Clearing House.

Upcoming Seed Exchange Program

Few people know exactly where to start when looking to become involved in farm to school.  There are so many ways to participate that the task of deciding which ones to pursue can feel a bit daunting.  That’s what inspired Cynthia Rorie’s idea of a school seed swap program in Arkansas.  Rorie is the Director of Special Programs at The Delta School in Wilson, Arkansas, so she oversees their Garden and Makers educators and creates after-school clubs and athletics.  The Delta School provides hands-on learning experiences designed to allow kids to discover their personal strengths, including an advanced school garden where various educational opportunities happen.  “Gardens are an integral part of the school day,” says Rorie.

Rorie recognizes that not everyone knows where to begin with the logistics of planning and funding.  She thought about how beneficial a starter kit with seeds and information for schools would be to help them begin gardens.  Rorie wants to help kids learn the entire process of where their food comes from, starting at the beginning.  In addition, the continuous crop variation will help keep the kids’ budding interests in the garden alive.  Rorie sees the creation of the seed packets as a fun and educational activity for even the younger children, since counting the seeds and writing the labels are tasks with which they can help.

The educational opportunities associated with a seed exchange program has focused Rories interest on schools, but she’s open to expanding to other community gardens and even schools in nearby states.  Ideally, an annual seed exchange event would take place, where representatives from the schools can collect new seeds to introduce into their gardens, but no details have yet been finalized.  Contact Cynthia with ideas to help get this program off the ground and get new seeds into it!

Meet the Garden Educators, Taylor Starkey and Meghan Minner, who will be leading the seed exchange.

If you’re interested in being a part of this developing program or have questions or ideas, contact Cynthia Rorie!


Arkansas Farm to School Groundbreakers

It’s oftentimes easier to hear tips and tricks from folks who've been through it before and from those who face the same barriers you do.  An important fact to consider is that while some farm to school programs are more advanced than others, everybody started at the beginning.  Three graduate students from the Clinton School of Public Service just finished their practicum project with the Access to Healthy Foods Research Group at Arkansas Children’s Research Institute creating profiles of people and projects working to advance farm to school in Arkansas.  These “Groundbreakers” share their stories of Arkansas Farm to School best practices, lessons learned, challenges faced, and resources they would need for expansion.  “The idea of the whole project is to provide inspiration to others around the state who might be looking at farm to school and increase peer-to-peer sharing,” says Amy Stewart.  The profiles share the various ways that real people in Arkansas have become involved in farm to school.  “We’re trying to hit this wide array of opportunities so people understand [the many ways to participate]," adds Nicole Hellthaler.

The Groundbreaker Profile documents are available for viewing and download on our Resources page.  The video and profiles will be available at meetings and training as resources. The Access to Healthy Foods Research Group will be creating additional profiles.  If you'd like your project shared, contact Jenna Rhodes at

2018 Statewide Farm to School Summit

Last month, the Access to Healthy Foods Research Group at Arkansas Children’s Research Institute partnered with the Arkansas Agriculture Department, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and FoodCorps Arkansas to host the 2018 Arkansas Farm to School Summit. The Summit took place on March 9 at Carolyn Lewis Elementary School in Conway and over 60 individuals were in attendance. 
The day began with a welcome from the school principal and her staff, but the big hit of the opening session was a performance by a group of elementary students who participate in the Sprout Scouts program. Following the opening session were breakout sessions designed to engage and inform school nutrition staff, farmers, and educators with knowledge about how to get involved in buying farm fresh food, selling it to schools, and fun food- and garden-based activities for kids.
Summit attendees were treated to a delicious lunch provided by the cafeteria that featured local beef and spinach, as well as herbs harvested from the school’s garden. Additional breakout sessions, including a speaker’s panel, occurred after lunch and a keynote speaker. The day ended with a networking event and garden and cafeteria tours. All in attendance were excited to put their knowledge to future use!