WASHINGTON – Moses Thompson didn’t go very far a few years ago when he went door-to-door to check in with parents for absent students, as part of his work with the Tucson Unified School District.
It was before the gardens.
“Once we opened the program, we didn’t ambush the parents because those parents were at school transforming the schoolyard,” said Thompson, who now runs the program. community and school gardens in 18 schools in the district.
He joined advocates across the country on Wednesday to testify at a House Rules Committee roundtable on how schools can help fight child hunger, with programs ranging from gardens to programs culinary through simple awareness.
“One in six children in America went to bed hungry and woke up hungry at some point in the year,” said representative Jim McGovern, D-Mass., Chair of the committee. “Think about it: one in six children in this country doesn’t know where their next meal will come from. It is simply not true.
” Let’s be clear. Schools are the backbone of efforts to end child hunger in this country and for many children they are the only places where they can reliably get a healthy and nutritious meal all day, ”said McGovern in his opening remarks.
But witnesses at the hearing said providing meals for the students was only the first step. Schools must ensure that they also provide healthy meals.
“It should be a birthright in this country, one of the richest on the planet, that every child has access to healthy food every day and that no child ever goes hungry,” said Ann Cooper , founder of the Chef Ann Foundation, a non-profit organization. organization that promotes scratch cooking in schools.
The Arizona Department of Education last week announced the “Creating Your Kitchen” program, in conjunction with the Chef Ann Foundation, to “support schools in their work to exceed standards and provide their students with meals. healthy and nutritious ”. The initiative aims to help schools serve more fresh food instead of prepackaged and prefabricated meals.
“Over the past year, it has become clear to everyone that one of the most essential services in our schools is providing healthy and nutritious meals for every student,” said Superintendent of Public Education Kathy Hoffman. in a press release announcing the program.
The past year has posed new challenges for school nutrition. During the pandemic, many students lost “the most stable place of their lives” when their schools closed, said Barbara Duffield, executive director of Schoolhouse Connection.
“Schools are not only the best, but often the only source of food and support that some students receive,” Duffield said at the roundtable.
As schools were closed, the Tucson District switched to packed lunches. But the work of the Community and School Garden Program, which Thompson runs in conjunction with the University of Arizona, has not stopped.
The program, which focuses on Title I schools and low-income communities, said it raised 350 pounds of produce in the 2020-2021 school year. Products were included in district take-out lunches, and any food that was not used in the school cafeteria was given to families and staff in need.
As food insecure students can again count on hot school meals now that in-person classes have resumed, Duffield said it’s important for schools to identify students who depend on them the most. school meals and provide them with additional assistance.
In Arizona, 311,390 children face food insecurity, according to the Arizona Food Bank Network. But Thompson said helping provide food for the kids was just one of the benefits of the gardening program.
The program works with schools to “foster cooperation, autonomy and social justice,” according to its website. It also helps “teachers to present students with“ real ”applications of what they are learning in the classroom. “
Thompson, a former counselor at Manzo Elementary School, used his interest in gardening to get out of his office and teach children to work together.
School gardens “are places to practice mindfulness, emotional self-regulation, and are places to meaningfully connect with other people,” said Thompson.
There are other benefits as well, said Cooper, who has seen the impact of school gardens on students for 11 years as director of food services for the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado.
“School gardens are an integral part of getting children to eat healthy foods,” Cooper said. “If they grow the food, they eat the food.”
This was echoed by Thompson, who said, “The way we eat has an impact on how we feel and the way we feel has an impact on the way we eat.”
Despite the ongoing challenges, Thompson said he was optimistic.
“It’s important to remember that these are man-made problems,” he said of child hunger. “But there are human solutions to all of these things that seem impossible.”