Engaging Youth from Seed to Spoon

Published in the Weakley County Press, August 15, 2019

The youth attending Martin Housing Authority’s summer camp and afterschool program, who also participate in Student Culinary Council, formed a group call “Stone Soup” at the Martin Enrichment Academy(MEA). With collaborative support from the MEA Staff and the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (LFN), students have planted and tended to various herbs, fruits and vegetables in their raised bed gardens located onsite. The harvested products grown from their garden will be used to make a community soup dinner for their “Stone Soup Project” that they themselves have cultivated, harvested and prepared.

The Martin Enrichment Academy Stone Soup harvesters harvested (and counted) 420 cherry tomatoes, 24 heads of salanova lettuce both green and red varieties, a bouquet of fresh basil and garlic chives for use in their Stone Soup Community Dinner.

“This project comes around full circle,” stated Samantha Goyret, Executive Director of the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network, “because it not only reconnects youth to their food sources, but also involves their families, their friends, their neighbors and their community who will all benefit from their Stone Soup community dinners.”

The food preparation will take place at the University of Tennessee at Martin’s Sodexo kitchen with Executive Chef, Andrew Miller, who will work hands-on with the Student Culinary Council members teaching them basic culinary and food safety skills.

Executive Chef, AJ Miller, teaches the Stone Soup “Student Culinary Council” food preparation and food safety best practices. The students, guided by the Chef, roasted and cooked a creamy roasted tomato basil soup, and made herb infused crackers in preparation for the event.

The “Stone Soup” Community dinners will take place at the Tom and Ann Stuart Community Center, located centrally within the Martin Housing complex. The dinners are open to the residents living at Martin Housing and student family members on Friday, August 16, 2019 at 5pm on a first come, first serve basis, for 100 people.

The Stone Soup Project has helped our children be engaged in a complete and comprehensive learning experience,” stated Robert Nunely, Program Director of the Martin Enrichment Academy, “The project highlights our program motto ‘Learning by Doing’. We couldn’t do this without our partnership with Sodexo and the Local Food Network,” he said.

Stone Soup dinners are made possible through a Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation grant whose mission is to ensure every child in the U.S. grows up with dependable access to enough nutritious food to enable them to lead a healthy, productive life. Sodexo USA’s mission is to improve quality of life and their responsibility is to preserve it.

Collaboration with the NWTN Local Food Network, a local nonprofit organization, is serving the children and MEA staff to be a catalyst for a thriving local food system that is accessible to ALL. The mission of the Martin Housing Authority, a nonprofit organization, is to become a regional leader and entrepreneurial force within the housing industry by providing quality housing while developing and implementing programs and services that promote independence, self-sufficiency, upward mobility and a better quality of life.

“A rich man’s soup – and all from a few stones. It seemed like magic!”
― Marcia Brown, Stone Soup

The “Stone Soup” Project involves youth attending the Martin Enrichment Academy who plant, cultivate, and harvest various herbs, fruits and vegetables in their onsite raised bed gardens to prepare community soup dinners.

Weakley County Among Recipients of Record-Breaking Farm to School Grants

More than $9 million in USDA Farm to School Program grants were recently awarded to increase the amount of healthy, local foods served in schools and create economic opportunities for nearby farmers. Among the awards was a nearly $49,000 grant to Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (LFN) for a collaboration with Weakley County Schools.

Though this year marks an all-time high of funding for the program with grants supporting 126 projects in 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, the Weakley County project is the only one in West Tennessee, and one of only three in the state, to receive a Farm to School grant.

The goal of the planning project is to create a Weakley County Farm to School Action Plan focused on Farm to School activities throughout the school district, which serves more than 4,000 students in 10 schools. The LFN will coordinate activities in collaboration with the Weakley County School System and stakeholders. The plan is scheduled to be completed by April 2021.

“The planning team will determine the tools, training, and technical assistance needed to create an integrated farm to school program that will not only educate and benefit our students, but positively impact the community by increasing access to healthy, local food in the schools,” explained Samantha Goyret, Executive Director, NWTN Local Food Network.

The plan will note identified needs, gaps, resources and funding sources for projects and is envisioned as a potential model that can then be replicated with other school districts.

“The Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network is very excited to work with Weakley County Schools, teachers, students, administration, parents and farmers to plan for future Farm to School projects and programming that will benefit the health and welfare of our students and community at large,” Goyret added.

In response to the announcement of the grant monies, Weakley County School Director Randy Frazier observed, “The Local Food Network has become a fundamental partner in networking within the community to connect farmers and resources to Weakley County Schools. We are looking forward to discovering the best practices to improve access to local foods in schools and ways to enhance our students’ understanding of the impact of local farming.”

Several Farm to School activities are already underway in the district:

Second graders at Sharon School were introduced to growing their own food when they planted and reaped the bounty of a garden last year. The harvested sweet potatoes were then prepared by the school cafeteria to be shared with fellow students.

· All K-3 students participate in a curriculum geared toward farming, sustainability, and local communities.

· All 4th graders participate in Farm Day and visit a local farm.

· At Sharon School, 2nd graders have planted a small garden and maintain a hanging garden installed by Women’s Farm Bureau, funding from Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom, and technical assistance from the LFN.

· The school system gives an Interest Inventory to 8th, 10th, and 11th graders. Each year, the category of “Agriculture & Natural Resources Conservation” is one of the top three areas of career interest for each of those grades.

· Dresden and Westview high schools have greenhouses onsite.

· Dresden High School has a livestock production program raising beef and swine. As soon as a USDA-approved processor is available, plans are to produce sausage for the school’s cafeteria.

· Each school within the district has a Healthy School Team to address the health needs for the particular school.

In addition to the contributions farm to school activities bring to local schools, the USDA notes that the activities also strengthen local economies. USDA’s 2015 Farm to School Census found that in the 2013-2014 school year alone, schools purchased more than $789 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. Schools provide producers stable markets and long-term revenues, and the program introduces students to agricultural career paths.

“We currently use a limited amount of locally grown produce in our school kitchens,” said Trista Snider, Weakley County Schools Nutrition Director. “However, we anticipate that as a result of this year of planning and working with the Local Food Network and area farmers, we will be able to expand our sources and substantially increase the quantity and – since it will be local – the quality of our offerings.”

The NWTN Local Food Network (LFN) founders Goyret and Ashley Kite-Rowland will serve as project coordinators and oversee the implementation of forums, surveys and assessments that will lead to the final action plan. Snider will be part of the planning team as will Bethany Allen, Weakley County Coordinated School Health Director. Allen’s work will center on students and the Healthy School Teams.

Healthy School Teams are led by the school nurse and include an administrator, the school counselor, school cafeteria manager and other interested persons. They promote healthy eating throughout the school day.

“I envision this planning grant bringing awareness to locally grown food and the importance of healthy eating for all of our students,” said Allen. “Coordinated School Health will work with LFN to encourage school gardens throughout the district and ways to incorporate agriculture into academic lessons.”

The Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (LFN) was formed in 2015 and envisions an equitable food system in the 9-county region of Northwest Tennessee that uses locally grown and produced food to sustain healthy communities and local economies.

~ Karen Campbell
Communications Director
Weakley County School District

Free Children’s Haircuts for a Cause

In preparation of the upcoming school year, JD’s Barber Shop, also known as Clipper Works, off of 619 North Lindell Street in Martin, TN will be providing free haircuts to youth ages 5-18 on Sunday, August 4th from 12:30-4:30 pm. Donations and tips for the cuts will support the Martin Enrichment Academy’s Stone Soup Project.

During the event there will be free grilled hotdogs, a variety of parking lot games and a chance for your child to win a backpack of school goodies.

Jahaan Jones, Martin Enrichment Academy Staff, with a bowl of freshly harvested vegetables and herbs from the garden.

“The Stone Soup Project,” is a program formed by the youth attending Martin Housing Authority’s summer camp and afterschool program, and who also participate in Student Culinary Council, led by Martin Housing Authority staff member, Sharde Lofton. This growing season MEA youth have been actively involved in farm to spoon activities, by growing from seed and transplant, cultivating and tending to the plants as they grow, harvesting and will be preparing their first Stone Soup community dinner in mid-August.  The harvested products grown from their garden will be used to make a community soup dinner which will be provided to the residents of Martin Housing Authority for a free community meal.

This project is made possible with collaborative support from the MEA and Martin Housing Authority Staff, Sodexo, and the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (LFN). All proceeds will support the growth and development of this program in preparation for next year’s growing season.