When bringing the farm to the school, a key ingredient is community support

This Thursday's Food in the Garden program asks a challenging question: "Can gardening change the world?" Intern Heather Olsen interviewed the program’s four panelists and the resounding answer is "yes!"

Fourth graders are not renowned for their love of salad. But when they've grown it themselves and even learned how to make a special vinaigrette, they'll come back for fourth and fifth helpings, says Joan Horwitt. She's the founder of a public school program called Lawns 2 Lettuce 4 Lunch.

To get a better sense of what "farm to school" and "grown local" programs are all about, we talked to Horwitt, along with Sophia Maravell, co-founder of the non-profit Brickyard Educational Farm; Christina Conell, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm to School Program; and Anna Benfield, of Washington Youth Garden, located at the National Arboretum. We asked them why they think promoting locally grown food programs is important, and what's the best thing about seeing kids learn about sustainable growing.


“Garden-based nutrition education may not be as flashy and hyper as zippy ads on TV, but over time it can be just as potent.” – Anna Benfield
"Garden-based nutrition education may not be as flashy and hyper as zippy ads on TV, but over time it can be just as potent." – Anna Benfield, Washington Youth Garden

And their answers? According to our panelists, these programs are about more than just teaching children about food and farming; they're about creating conscientious communities that work together to better their unique environments, a message that is echoed in the the Museum's exhibition FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000.

Horwitt said that, for her, "The best part of Lawns 2 Lettuce 4 Lunch is the new relationships that have developed in the community. We make a point of going door-to-door and talking with our neighbors, asking them to promote healthy eating among our children by growing some lettuce in their yard. We provide the seeds, instructions and a Lawns 2 Lettuce 4 Lunch marker stake, and in return we learn about some of the talents and interests our neighbors have."

USDA's Conell agrees. "I just love the enthusiasm communities pull together to support their farm to school programs," she said. "Oftentimes, we get caught up in the obstacles and red tape, and I love that my job is to simplify bureaucracy and make buying local food accessible to all schools."


Service directors at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference share how they incorporate local products at their schools. One sign says that students at a New Hampshire school eat “local shrimp, red perch (fish tacos—yum!), maple syrup, yogurt.”
Service Directors at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference share how they incorporate local products at their schools. One sign says that students at a New Hampshire school eat "local shrimp, red perch (fish tacos—yum!), maple syrup, yogurt."

The community can also be a great asset for getting programs like this off the ground. When asked what advice she would give people who want to start similar programs in their areas, Maravell said that, along with record keeping and organization, encouraging local involvement is key. "Their support and help will be invaluable."


"The best part of this project for me is sharing the importance of food and farming in our society today with the next generation." – Sophia Maravell, co-founder of the Brickyard Educational Farm
"The best part of this project for me is sharing the importance of food and farming in our society today with the next generation." – Sophia Maravell, co-founder of Brickyard Educational Farm

In the comments below, tell us about the first time you participated in gardening or farming. Have you helped a child discover where carrots come from? How have you seen farm education programs make a difference?

Tickets are still available this week's Food in the Garden event on Thursday, August 1st, which is titled Grow Now: Local Growers Spill the Beans. Food in the Garden is made possible through the generous support of DuPont Pioneer and The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. The programs are presented by the Museum’s American Food History Project and Smithsonian Gardens.

Heather Olsen is a social media intern in the New Media department. She has also blogged about foraging for local food.

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