Updates for Truck Farm
“Umm, excuse me miss; you said you were going to teach me about how strawberries grow after I try this salad. I’ve tried it!” an eager Aiton Elementary student exclaimed while examining a little plant with two new strawberries among its leaves.
On Wednesday, June 8th, DC Central Kitchen’s school foods team celebrated the benefits of local, seasonable food with students at Aiton Elementary School.
While passing out tasting plates of our homemade strawberry salad over lunch, the team educated students about the benefits of healthy eating and explained that the delicious strawberries and salad greens came from Kilmer’s Orchard and Mock’s Greenhouse, two of DCCK’s partner farms in West Virginia.
After lunch, students participated in a nutrition education session with our traveling, edible exhibit, the Truck Farm. The Truck Farm is a garden in the bed of a pick-up truck that we bring to schools and youth programs to educate children about how fruits and vegetables grow.
DCCK is no stranger to using local fruits and vegetables in our meals. This school year alone, school lunches have included food made from 251,152 pounds of local product, and nearly 40% of all food used in our school meals is locally grown.
At DC Central Kitchen we’re operating innovative programs that fight poverty, hunger, and poor health 365 days a year. Though our work is constant, we’re always striving to do more. In fact, as of Pi Day (March 14, or 3.14) 2016, our Community Outreach team has conducted 314 nutrition education events for our community since January 2015! While many people in our city are aware of our efforts to bring healthy, affordable food to neighborhoods where it would otherwise be scarce, we have made major investments in our outreach and nutrition education efforts in the past few years as well. It’s not enough just to expand the radius of our healthy food distribution network. To create a virtuous circle of healthy behaviors, we’re giving parents, children, and other residents of DC’s food deserts the knowledge and skills they need to make that food part of their daily lives.
In an effort to integrate healthy food and healthy living, DC Central Kitchen’s programs reach DC residents where they are – whether that’s in their community, at school, or at their local corner store. While many DC residents live more than a mile from their nearest full-service grocery store, we’ve found that doesn’t reflect a lack of consumer demand for fresh, nutritious items—just a failure of supply. With over 67 current locations, our Healthy Corners program makes healthy food affordable and accessible. We develop new products that encourage healthy eating on the go, including fresh-cut fruit, scratch-cooked versions of popular snacks, and healthy, ready-to-eat meals packed with wholesome ingredients.
In order to help DC residents learn how to create full meals out of the ingredients sold at their corner store, our Community Outreach team offers cooking demonstrations and provides recipes cards for healthy meals that can be made using affordable products sold at our Healthy Corners locations.
We believe changing behaviors and creating affordable access to healthy food requires going beyond single-pronged solutions. That’s why we’re fighting childhood obesity and poor health through a recent partnership with the DC Department of Health (DOH) and Playworks, a national nonprofit organization that turns recess and afterschool hours into structured opportunities for physical activity and healthy play. DCCK brings nutrition education and healthy food to Playworks’ partner schools in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8, and Playworks helps DCCK educate our students about easy strategies for increasing daily physical activity. Together, we’re reaching more at-risk children and families more holistically.
“I was greeted with a big hug from, Michael, a fifth grader at one of our partner schools. He was so excited to recognize me from both Playworks Junior Coach Leadership Program (JCLP) and Class Game Time (CGT). After spending almost 2 hours on Wednesday in JCLP learning about nutrients and playing a game called ‘Meal-ay Race,’ Michael was ecstatic to see me in his classroom the next day. He knew that we would be discussing similar topics in his class and was prepared to answer every question. He even helped explain the game to his classmates!”
As the food service provider for 11 schools serving low-income children in DC, we’re preparing and serving up to 6,800 healthy, scratch-cooked breakfasts, lunches, and suppers every day. Like all educators, we want to see our students take home with them what they learn in school, so we offer recipes and cooking demonstrations to help parents transfer the good habits kids learn at school to the dinner table at home.
DC Central Kitchen’s mission is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities, and our nutrition education initiatives are just one way we’re building a stronger community through food, together. Whether our outreach team is in a school, an afterschool program, or a corner store, we’re working to bridge the gap between knowledge and affordability to create a healthier, more prosperous community for us all.
One of our favorite educational tools at DC Central Kitchen is the Truck Farm, a traveling mini-garden in the bed of a pick-up truck. We take the truck to schools and youth agencies to show children how healthy produce grows. Mike Pappas, the produce merchandising expert for our Healthy Corners program, planted the Truck Farm’s crops this season. It’s amazing how many vibrant veggies and fresh fruits Pappas can fit in the Truck Farm, so we asked Pappas how he does it and how anyone can use their own backyard, no matter how small, for an edible garden.
How do you garden in a way that maximizes the small amount of space in a truck bed?
Bio-intensive gardening is a way for backyard famers to maximize their space. It is a sustainable solution to growing food on a small scale. Bio-intensive gardening can be scaled up or down as big or small as you like, even in the back of a truck. For me, bio-intensive gardening has five central tenets: deep cultivation; planting in hexagonal patterns instead of traditional straight rows to allow for more room for plants; using lots of organic material such as compost; planting things that grow well together as companion plants; and caring for the synergy of the whole system of your garden.
What is ideal to grow in a bio-intensive garden?
Anything you want! It’s wise to have biodiversity. This includes grains, legumes, fruits, alliums, flowers. . . everything!
How can a family support themselves from a bio-intensive garden?
Bio-intensive gardens produce so much food. You can easily feed a family of four and have enough for your neighbors! This model of gardening has been taken to developing countries to improve nutrition and cultivate microenterprises.
How can people use a bio-intensive garden to foster their communities?
Do your own CSA for your neighborhood! CSA stands for community supported agriculture, and you can use your garden to help feed your neighbors. You can use the money you get for a CSA towards the next season’s costs of your garden.
What do you think is the future of bio-intensive gardening?
It’s going to be the wave of the future. There are many small urban and backyard farms burgeoning every year. The average age of a farmer is 58 or 60, but that’s definitely coming down as younger people are getting involved in farming on a much smaller scale. To have enough food to feed everyone in the world we’re going to have to do this kind of gardening.
Truck Farm is back! Last week DC Central Kitchen staff prepared the truck for its third year as a traveling, edible garden exhibit aimed at introducing the city’s youth to gardening and fresh, healthy foods. The bed of our Truck Farm is now growing carrots, snap peas, bush beans, lemon thyme, purple sage and about twenty other vegetables and herbs.
We’d like to thank our financial sponsors, the Aetna Foundation and the 15 Foundation, for making this work possible. More thanks to Old City Farm and Guild for donating seedlings for last week’s planting and Johnson Florist and Garden Center for donating supplies.
During this year’s growing season, we will be taking the Truck Farm to visit kids at the youth agencies, schools, and Healthy Corners stores that we serve, as well as city farmers markets. During each visit we’ll introduce kids to gardening and show them that it really is possible to grow your own food right here in the city. Each hands on session allows kids to touch, smell and even taste fresh veggies and herbs.
The Truck Farm is an important part of our wrap-around approach to ending childhood hunger. The program generates enthusiasm about eating fresh foods and increases participation in the healthy, scratch-cooked meals we deliver to ten DC schools in Ward 5, 7, and 8 by using lessons to generate enthusiasm about the fresh fruits and vegetables on their lunch trays.
Changing Eating Habits
Our innovative and thoughtful way of preparing healthy meals at DC Public Schools has led to solid returns. The kids are eating healthier every day and bringing those healthy habits home.
Building Partnerships with Small Businesses
Through Healthy Corners, we’ve partnered with 30 corner stores in Wards 5, 7, and 8 to provide fresh produce and healthy snacks at affordable prices. Not only are we investing in these stores and providing a new business opportunity, but we’re engaging the store owners to become crucial champions of change in their communities.
We’re also investing in local farms and buying much of our produce locally. Our Farm-to-School initiative engages farmers to become part of the solution by providing much of the healthy produce we serve.
Combating Childhood Hunger by Providing Three Square Meals
Together, our Healthy School Food initiative and Healthy Returns effort, which delivers meals and snacks to after school programs and summer camps, give kids healthy, scratch-cooked meals three times per day. And these meals are packed with fresh local produce, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Educating the Community
With our Truck Farm, school cooking demos, and community outreach efforts, we’re educating the entire community about nutrition. Last year, we educated over 9,800 individuals with hands-on strategies for healthy eating and an additional 2,300 children through the Truck Farm, an innovative traveling edible exhibit that teaches kids where food comes from.
You can be part of this success. Make a contribution this holiday season to promote health and combat hunger in DC neighborhoods.
At DC Central Kitchen, we change lives through the creative use of food. Across America, there are lots of organizations bringing healthy food to low-income children and families. It’s important work, and we’re glad to see conversations about hunger, obesity, and diet-related disease taking place at dinner tables and in the halls of Congress.
But helping kids and families lead healthier lives takes more than handing out strange new foods and saying “Eat this, it’s good for you.” At DCCK, we have pioneered a path-breaking ‘wraparound’ approach to changing behaviors and empowering people to live better.
Others have said that kids don’t want to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – and when these foods are served only occasionally, and in isolation from nutrition education and real engagement, they’re right! But our programs provide healthy food options in school, after school, during school vacations, and even to corner stores near DC schools.
By offering these items at so many places where children spend their time, we reinforce good decision making and give them the tools to grow up strong.
Our model starts in school, where we serve nearly 5,000 healthy, locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals to children enrolled at 10 DC schools. We focus on serving low-income neighborhoods, and many of the 2,000 schoolchildren we serve each day rely on us for three meals each day. When school is out of session, these kids face the threat of hunger. That’s why we distribute more than 100,000 nutritious meals and snacks to 35 youth programs and summer camps each year, helping nourish young people during school vacations.
And to help kids make smarter dietary choices on their own, we stock 30 corner stores in low-income neighborhoods with fresh produce and wholesome snacks through our Healthy Corners program. While other communities across America are searching for a solution to the lack of quality options on corner store shelves, DC Central Kitchen has become the only nonprofit to take on the central issue of distribution, making us a national leader in the struggle against ‘food deserts.’
We’re empowering our community to live healthier by bringing quality food to its schools, summer camps, and corner stores. Join our effort to build a healthier future today!