How does a10-acre farm improve the health of local youth?
My name is Megan Townley and I am the Food Access Coordinator for Project GROWS. Improving food access, or increasing food security, in a community is not a one step process. Simply bringing more food into the community will not solve hunger. You have to look at accessing food through all lenses and recognize all of the challenges the community is facing when it comes to accessing fresh food. Some challenges include transportation, knowledge about how to use produce or where to buy it, affordability, and simply not having healthy options in major food outlets like schools. You also have to take into account each person experiencing hunger is different and each person will experience different challenges when it comes to accessing fresh food. Food Accessibility needs will grow and shift over time and my job is to make sure we will always provide programs and resources to bridge the gap between fresh food and the community.
As food access coordinator I manage many programs: farmers markets and nutrition incentive programs (SNAP and WIC), family and youth cooking programs, farm to school programs, school garden programs, and community outreach. When you look at these programs individually they seem different but they have one thing in common: connecting the community and youth to healthy food. Here is how I see the Barn improving food access in our community.
Harvest of the Month (HOM) is a nationally recognized farm to school program that features a local produce item in schools once a month for students to taste. This spring the food access team launched the first ever Harvest of the Month program district-wide in Staunton City Schools giving over 4,000 youth the opportunity to taste local produce in their schools in just 3 months! I have witnessed this program impacting youth and families in our community. Children are recognizing Project GROWS as community leaders when it comes to trying new things. Parents are writing us saying “My son came home very excited about the cabbage you brought to his middle school. I have a hard time getting him to eat veggies, even those we grow, so this was exciting news for me!” And families who receive SNAP benefits are bringing their kids with them to our farmers markets to pick veggies that they tried in school because their kids are asking for it and our market programs now make it affordable. I am witnessing food habits and behaviors change right before my eyes and improving the health of local youth is becoming a reality, not just a mission statement.
With the success we achieved this spring we hope to expand our Harvest of the Month program this fall into Waynesboro Public Schools. Having a barn on our farm will allow us to grow more food and store food over the winter months so we can serve more children and continue the Harvest of the Month program all year long!
We’ve seen the ways that our work directly impacts youth, and we invite you to join with us! If you would like to support us consider pledging to our Barn-Raising Campaign today!
Megan Townley, Food Access Coordinator