Farms and Gardens
Farm-to-Cafeteria programs have gained popularity in recent years and are comparable in price to conventional food sources. There are four main types of these programs: salad bar, main meal, special events and catering. The first three could apply to a Job Corps program. In a Farm-to-Cafeteria salad bar, all items on a salad bar are bought from local growers, direct from farms, or through cooperatives and wholesale vendors. Some of these products can be reimbursable through the USDA. Second, locally grown farm products can be integrated into main meals. This is the easiest type of program to implement, as there are often few noticeable changes to current menu options. Some cafeterias have experienced success with introducing new menus that feature locally grown produce through special events, such as harvest dinners. The benefits of farm-to-cafeteria programs include:
- Increased access to fresh, healthy foods
- Strengthened local economies
- Increased community awareness of local farming and food systems
- Opportunity to educate students on sustainable agriculture and responsible consumerism
Your center can gradually switch to local foods. The change does not have to happen overnight. For information on how to get started with a farm-to-cafeteria or local purchasing program, contact a local farmer or start with these resources:
Often, these sustainable programs that support local agriculture take on a life of their own. One supplier will lead to another until the community meets nearly all your food procurement needs.
Job Corps centers that sit on large tracts of land, especially in rural areas, can create an instructional garden. Research suggests community gardens create a safe space for people to interact and explore a new skill with others. (Waitkus, 2004). These gardens teach students how to grow fruits and vegetables, herbs and flowers, and may help students learn to work together and take pride in a project.
Food grown in the garden can be served in the cafeteria or for a special event, or used in cooking classes or Culinary Arts training. Instructional gardens take some planning and do not happen overnight. Before planting the garden, work through the following steps:
- Pick a spot for a garden. The area for the garden should get enough sunlight and should be in an area that is visible to staff and students.
- Market the idea to students. Have students get involved in planning. Get them excited about the garden. Allow them to volunteer to work in the garden.
- Start small, but leave room to grow. The garden does not have to take up a square acre. A small vegetable patch is enough to get started. As interest grows among students and staff, so does your garden.
For more infomation, see the article about instructional gardens in Job Corps Health and Wellness Solutions, Volume 3, Issue 1 (page 2).
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