HOLYOKE — Holyoke elementary school students are learning about food justice from the ground up thanks to the help of MA FRESH grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The second round of the Massachusetts Farming Reinforces Education and Student Health grant funding was announced by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Office for Food and Nutrition Programs.

This funding enables schools and early education sites to purchase and prepare more locally grown Massachusetts food, invest in farm to school efforts and provide students with experiential learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom.

HPS Director of Science Eric Levine said that Holyoke Public Schools is in its second full year of partnership with FoodCorps, a national food justice program connected to AmeriCorps.

FoodCorps partners with schools and communities to nourish kid’s health and education and their goal is to make sure every child has access to food education and nourishing food in school by 2030.

He added, “The grant funding is positioned to help enhance our FoodCorps program which serves our K-2 students. By utilizing this funding, we will be able to expand based on the program goals.”

The three goals of the FoodCorps program are core justice oriented food education, school gardening and expanding students choices through the taste testing program.

Levine talked how FoodCorps and the programs goals will help the students.
He said, “It gives the opportunity for students to design, setup and utilize the school garden to be able to make the connection to where our food comes from and make healthy choices.”

Holyoke’s program is supported in part through the $23,479 MA FRESH grant.
Most of the funds are being used to purchase materials to expand and provide upkeep to existing gardens at Donahue, E.N. White, Kelly, Lawrence and McMahon schools and also to develop a new garden at Morgan School.

The program allows students to plant gardens, see how plants grow, learn about how their environment works and make a connection to the plants they’ve grown and the foods they eat.

“It involves them planting seeds and then watching them grow into familiar vegetables that they then study and eat,” Levine added.

Some of the planting begins indoors, with students planting carrot seeds in small pots.

For example, they are watered regularly and allowed to mature a bit in grow carts before being transplanted outside.

Levine also talked about how it feels to have been awarded the grant funding.

He said, “I am really excited about it. DESE and MA FRESH have made it a priority to support our students in our schools across the commonwealth and make these assistance programs work so this fits really in line with what we are doing and they were excited to see how we were using these funds.”

This year, three FoodCorps staff are spending time with hundreds of students at all six HPS elementary schools, as they learn about food, nutrition, gardening and sustainable agriculture and how all of these are important components of food justice.

The remaining funds will be used for supplies so students in grades K-2 can enjoy taste tests in their classrooms of healthy foods that could be grown in school gardens.

FoodCorps staff member Will Taylor also talked about the program and how FoodCorps helps.

Taylor said, “The program empowers us to help kids become agents in their own food systems from a very early age. They get to be partners in their own school gardens” while also allowing FoodCorps to help build gardens in public spaces.

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