Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) - Competition Winner

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Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) - Competition Winner

United StatesUnited States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Budget: 
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) works with schools and communities to raise awareness about healthy food, the role of farms and farmers, and good nutrition. We act as a catalyst for rebuilding healthy food systems and cultivating links between classrooms, cafeterias, local farms, and communities.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Farms throughout Vermont and the nation are struggling to remain economically viable. VT FEED addresses the problem of agricultural viability by opening new school markets for farmers and their products and educating a new generation of consumers. Additionally, childhood obesity is a serious and growing health threat in Vermont and throughout the United States. During the past four decades, obesity rates have more than quadrupled among children ages 6 to 11 in the United States, more than tripled among adolescents ages 12 to 19, and more than doubled among children ages 2 to 5. Sedentary behavior combined with increased consumption of foods high in calories and low in nutrition has lead to almost one third of all young people being categorized as overweight or obese. VT FEED is a Farm to School program that supports students to make healthy food choices and encourages active engagement in healthy activities including gardening and farm-based field experiences.
About You
Organization:
Shelburne Farms
Section 1: You
First Name

Megan

Last Name

Camp

Organization

Shelburne Farms

Country

, VT

Section 2: Your Organization
Organization Name

Shelburne Farms

Organization Phone

(802) 985-8686

Organization Address

1611 Harbor Road, Shelburne, VT 05482

Organization Country

, VT

Your idea
Country and state your work focuses on

, VT

Innovation
What makes your idea unique?

Vermont Food Education Everyday (VT FEED) is a partnership program of three Vermont nonprofit organizations – Food Works at Two Rivers, Northeast Organic Farmer’s Association of Vermont, and Shelburne Farms – that offers a systemic, community-based approach to school food system change. An early leader in the Farm to School movement, VT FEED has been providing professional development and technical assistance to schools and communities in Vermont, the Northeast region, and throughout the country for over a decade. We integrate a unique “3-C” model of farming-food-nutrition education within Classrooms, Cafeterias and Communities, and it is this "3-C" theory of change that has been the foundation for our success. As visibility and awareness of Farm to School programs and their potency grows, more and more schools and communities seek tools and resources to start their own programs. Schools often begin by improving food access: getting more local, fresh foods on the school menu. We believe this important step is just part of the solution. Our experience indicates that students are more likely to try new foods and adopt healthier eating habits when they know the farmer, when they participate in food production (planting, harvesting, gleaning, developing recipes, preparing food in the kitchen, test testing, etc.), and when they learn about food in the classroom. Our "3-C" model is working in Vermont and we’re now taking it to scale. VT FEED provides free downloadable tools, findings and web-based resources to interested Farm to School practitioners.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Impact
What impact have you had?

VT FEED has statewide, regional and national impact. At the state level, we leveraged the passage of a Farm to School bill in 2006 establishing community grants administered by the Agency of Agriculture to support schools with FTS planning and implementation. As a result, nearly half of Vermont’s elementary schools now have some sort of farming-food-nutrition intervention. VT FEED provides professional development and technical assistance to hundreds of schools annually, including to all FTS grant recipients. On a national level, a VT FEED staff person, Dana Hudson, is Coordinator for the National Farm to School’s Northeast Regional Lead Agency. Dana is instrumental in linking our on-the-ground work in Vermont with regional and national priorities of the Farm to School movement that is gaining momentum nationally. Dana and other VT FEED staff share findings from our work through presentations and workshops at conferences around the country. We play a leadership role in conducting evidence-based evaluation of Farm to School promising practices. We work to source fresh food locally, which has an economic impact on Vermont’s agricultural economy by creating new markets for farmers and nurturing a new generation of consumers. We provide free downloadable tools, findings and web-based resources to Farm to School practitioners around the country.

Actions

VT FEED’s work is centered around these five key actions: (1) Ag viability and local food systems – partnering with farms and schools to increase fresh food purchasing contracts (2) Outreach – providing professional development (workshops, summer institutes, and conferences) and technical assistance (on-site trainings and consultation addressing site specific challenges and opportunities), resource development and dissemination via conferences and website (3) Creating learning communities – facilitating dialogue and shared learning opportunities focusing on promising practices of local purchasing and the development of effective community based education and engagement (4) Strengthening the Vermont Farm to School Network (5) Evaluation – providing clear evidence of program impact so that we and our community partners, policy makers and funders can make sound decisions about where to invest and divest limited resources.

Results

This program will strengthen the agriculture-based economy and help students make healthier food choices. More children will know their farmers and eat more of the fresh, local food that they grow. More schools will develop curriculum that teaches about agriculture and nutrition. School cafeterias will be used as laboratories for taste tests, cooking, recipe development and learning. School food service professionals will establish purchasing contracts with local farmers. Schools will become places of community celebration around food and learning. Best practices from the “3-C” model will be identified through rigorous evaluation, enabling us to disseminate the most potent among them to a national audience.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

VT FEED’s success over the next 3 years hinges upon: (1) Evaluation of program effectiveness to provide a compelling and statistically-useful body of evidence for sharing promising practices of Vermont Farm to School models with an expanding national audience; (2) Scaling up innovation and programming, which will shift VT FEED from providing direct service to co-creating adaptations of the model with new partners; (3) Facilitating a “community of practice network” to help the program move beyond brand to a viral diffusion of adaptation; (4) Continued collaborative efforts with private and public stakeholders to strengthen and support the Vermont Farm to School Network; (5) Close partnership with local, state, regional and national partners to advance the movement and to raise awareness; (6) Diffusion of VT FEED’s promising practices shared through web-based materials, tools and findings via enhanced presence on the Internet and improvements to the VT FEED website, including expanded technical assistance through webinars, video outreach and other user-friendly on-line resources.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

As the Farm to School movement grows, the number of people and organizations involved in supporting schools and communities to achieve their farm-food-education goals also increases. Additional stakeholders and practitioners increase the need for clarity around roles, responsibilities and decision making. The lack of a statewide (and national) strategic plan for Vermont Farm to School could be an obstacle to success and reduce the effectiveness of VT FEED and its partners, if not openly, effectively and professionally addressed.

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?

Yes

Sustainability
What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

In what country?

, VT

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Yes

If yes, provide organization name.

Shelburne Farms

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?

Yes

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?

Yes

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?

Yes

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?

Yes

Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

As a jointly-run project administered by three non-profits, VT FEED is founded on the idea of collaboration. We partner with state agencies – including the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Department of Health and Department of Education, and a wide array of community partners including schools, local businesses, farms and farmers, food processors, and regional Farm to School partner organizations. We also share close working relationships with many funders, including foundations and individual donors. While partnerships and shared endeavors can be challenging and difficult to manage at times, we firmly believe they lend strength and efficacy to our programs. Partnerships have been fundamental to our success because they foster community involvement and buy-in, enhance long-term sustainability through financial support, and are integral to spreading information and sharing resources.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

Evaluation: Continued program evaluation of Vermont’s Farm to School promising practices is a high priority for VT FEED. While it may seem intuitive that linking students with local foods and farms leads to positive change, only through well-designed evaluations and research are we able to measure what’s working and determine which practices are most potent. This information is necessary if the rapidly growing Farm to School movement is to make sound decisions about where to invest and divest in terms of program development. Increasingly, communities and funding agencies are looking for clear evidence of project impact.

Outreach: The VT FEED model is based upon providing capacity building to support schools and communities to develop and ultimately sustain their own Farm to School programs. As mentioned previously, VT FEED offers professional development (workshops, summer institutes, conferences, trainings) and provides technical assistance (on-site outreach to schools to address place-based, site specific challenges and opportunities.) Technical assistance is the sustainability component of the VT FEED model embedding skills and knowledge for on-going program development within the local school and its community partners.

Dissemination: VT FEED develops high-quality printed and downloadable web-based resources, tools and materials that make information and best practices available to food service professionals, school administrators, and educators locally and around the world. We seek to continually look at the design of the VT FEED website and provide links to other resource organizations as an efficient and cost-effective dissemination tool. For more information or to download resources, please visit http://www.vtfeed.org/.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

There have been several defining moments since VT FEED was founded more than a decade ago, in an era before the phrase “Farm to School” was coined. The first defining moment was when the principal at Jay Westfield Elementary School called from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom seeking assistance to create a school garden. This call sparked three Vermont nonprofit organizations (Food Works, NOFA-VT and Shelburne Farms) to team up and develop an integrated approach to farming-food-nutrition education that links Classroom learning to Cafeteria food to the local Community of farmers and food producers who raised that food. In the decade that followed, we have taken numerous incremental steps to collaboratively build a successful Farm to School program and we’ve learned a lot along the way. One of the most important things we’ve learned is one must build capacity within schools and communities if Farm to School is to have staying power. Thus VT FEED provides professional development and technical assistance; develops resources, tools and materials; and answer questions, coaches and mentors.

Another defining moment happened in 2006, when the Vermont Legislature passed a Farm to School bill appropriating state funds to create a mini-grant program through which schools may now apply for planning and implementations grants for their Farm to School programs. The program is administered by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. The passage of the bill exhilarated the Farm to School movement in Vermont and established a partnership between VT FEED, the Agency of Agriculture, and the Departments of Health and Education.

In September 2009, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy helped secure a grant for VT FEED from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, enabling us to identify and evaluate Vermont’s most promising practices for getting kids to make healthy food choices.

In April 2010, a defining moment emanating from the White House came when Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative identified Farm to School as one of the five top strategies for school food improvement in the fight against childhood obesity. After years of hard work, the time truly has come for Farm to School to take its place on the national stage of programs that can and will change the health and well-being of all children. In Vermont we look forward to being part of the solution; to sharing our tools, resources and expertise; to supporting the spread this movement to every corner of the country.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

Just as entrepreneurs change the face of business, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss and improving systems, inventing new approaches, and creating solutions to change society for the better. There are three primary social innovators behind VT FEED:

Megan Camp is Vice President and Program Director of Shelburne Farms. Megan is an education consultant and advisor for a variety of organizations and educational projects. Since 1992 she has served as a lead consultant and partner for the Institute for Sustainable Communities working with community-based education projects around the world. Megan is an advisor to the Agriculture Innovation Center , the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the University of Vermont College of Ag and Life Sciences and also serves on the board of the Vermont Fresh Network.

Joseph Kiefer is the Director of Education and Executive Director of Food Works since 1988. He is passionately committed to saving family farms, feeding young children and connecting communities to their agricultural roots. He has authored several books including his latest, "Digging Deeper: Integrating Youth Gardens into Schools and Communities, A Comprehensive Guide."

Enid Wonnacott is Executive Director of NOFA-VT and has a master’s degree in Natural Resource Planning. Enid is an educational consultant who has won numerous accolades for scholarly accomplishments in community-based organizing.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Personal contact at Changemakers

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer