On September 20th, 2013, Common Ground hosted a training session for a unique group of young leaders in Connecticut known as FoodCorps service members. These twelve individuals, originally from states all over the country, have come to Connecticut to help connect children to healthy food so that they may grow up healthy. Over the next 11 months, they will serve in school districts across the state to increase the amount of local, healthy food available in school cafeterias; help build and utilize school gardens to teach children about where their food comes from; and conduct nutrition education in classrooms during and after school hours.
FoodCorps, an independent non-profit affiliated with the AmeriCorps service network, is a relatively new program founded in 2009. Through the hands and minds of 125 emerging leaders in 15 different states, FoodCorps strives to give all youth an enduring relationship with healthy food. Federal and private funds support the program, which is overseen in Connecticut by the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension Service and various service sites such as Common Ground and the New Haven Public Schools Central Kitchen in New Haven.
During the training, FoodCorps members had the opportunity to tour Common Ground’s urban farm and experience what it takes to turn farm-fresh produce into healthy, free lunch for every Common Ground high school student. Under the Harvest Pavilion, Farm Manager Shannon Raider shed light on how Common Ground’s values align with the goals of FoodCorps service members, claiming that, “Fresh local food should be a right, not a privilege.”
On the other side of the 20-acre site, service members witnessed the differences between a production-based farm and a learning-based children’s garden. Small, green signs reading, “Ready To Eat!” encouraged members to taste, smell, and touch the bounty of fruits, vegetables, and herbs surrounding them in the learning garden. As they strolled through the labyrinth of small garden beds, Director of Community Programs, Rebecca Holcombe, pointed out various elements such as the “dig box” – a place where children can openly interact with worms and other insects – and the “outdoor learning space” – a cluster of stumps located under a peach tree where children gather to learn about garden-related activities.
As the group gathered around picnic tables adjacent to a pen of sheep and goats grazing peacefully under the warm autumn sun, it became abundantly apparent why they were all there together. The mission of Common Ground is to ‘cultivate habits of healthy living and sustainable environmental practice among a diverse community of children, families, and adults.’ Likewise, FoodCorps’ vision complements Common Ground’s mission as they strive to ‘create a nation of well-nourished children: children who know what healthy food is, how it grows and where it comes from, and who have access to it every day. These children, having grown up in a healthy food environment, will learn better, live longer, and liberate their generation from diet-related disease.’
This unique partnership ensures that nobody has to reinvent the wheel. Tiffany Torres, Common Ground’s newest FoodCorps service member, has experienced these benefits first-hand as she works alongside Common Ground’s School Garden Resource Center to create more just and meaningful food systems for vulnerable children.
A graduate of Florida State University with a degree in Geography, Tiffany has studied many facets of the sustainable food movement through the lens of ‘place and space.’ Her studies prior to joining FoodCorps led her to help establish a small urban farm in a local food desert. She has since graduated from a farmer training program at Green String Institute in California. After gaining experience in agricultural production, her interests shifted to the non-profit sector where she found Common Ground. “In the past I have worked with non-profits that connected sustainable agriculture to various demographics like churches or retreat centers,” says Tiffany, “but working with the School Garden Resource Center at Common Ground provides me the opportunity to bring real food to one of the most vulnerable populations in America: our children.”
With the Connecticut School Garden Resource Center, Tiffany is helping to build and connect edible gardens at schools throughout New Haven and beyond. “I want to create an environment where I can teach educators and youth to garden, not simply give them a garden,” explains Tiffany. “Gardens are powerful learning laboratories. With Common Ground and FoodCorps, my goal is to help sustain school gardens for generations to come. After all, the children are our future.”