This School-Run Garden is Helping Nourish an Arizona Community

By Erica Curry
March 28, 2018
Children working in a garden

Moencopi Day School in Tuba City, Arizona, has offered a garden learning program for over 10 years. But it was just last spring that student-grown produce first appeared on this elementary school’s cafeteria lunch line—a Hopi Nation first.

That special lunch was important for Moencopi Day School. For the fifth graders who made it happen, the impact came over months of learning and preparation. Guided by Steven Lomadafkie, a science and environmental educator at the school, and two AmeriCorps service members recruited and trained by FoodCorps, an organization connecting kids to healthier foods and the natural world, the students planted and tended lettuce, gaining skills and pride in the resulting harvest.

Through washing the greens and planning a school-wide party, the students built a connection with cafeteria staff—who saw the infectious enthusiasm kids could have for a vegetable. By modeling positive eating behaviors, these fifth graders became healthy food champions, spreading the joy of good nutrition to their peers. It’s the sum of these ongoing, school-wide experiences that shapes children’s eating habits and their lifelong benefits.

A belief in hands-on learning is something that Moencopi Day School is embracing in its second year of partnership with FoodCorps and local nonprofit Moenkopi Developers Corporation. This year’s FoodCorps service member, Curt Cebula, is building on last year’s progress, expanding greenhouse lessons to all grades and increasing the frequency of taste tests. “The kids love him,” Steven says of Curt. “Sometimes he’ll get 10 hugs before a class starts.”

Curt says he sees once-reluctant students now open to trying new foods—especially when they’ve had a hand in making them. Some parents have even told Steven their kids have asked to start a garden at home.

Moencopi’s parent liaison, Trinity Honahnie, says Curt has been instrumental in engaging the community, another critical ingredient in the FoodCorps recipe. His support of a new school-wide take-home meal kit program, featuring traditional Hopi foods and recipes, has helped parents connect with what’s happening at school while reinforcing healthy habits at home. A taste test he led at a parent-teacher conference sparked a new energy.

“It was just a turnaround overnight,” Trinity says. “Curt has really brought some light to our greenhouse program.”

Principals, teachers, and parents understand that this type of positive change is important. FoodCorps strives to make its program effective, accessible and relevant to all schools. This year it introduced a new series of elementary school hands-on food lessons, each tied to national academic standards, which teachers can adapt and weave into classroom lessons. Thanks to support from funders like the Walmart Foundation, this year FoodCorps will reach 160,000 kids around the country.

At the end of the day, FoodCorps serves to make it easier for schools to do what they do best: give students the nourishment they need, in body and mind, to thrive. It’s the passion of local leaders, like Steven, that makes the impact we seek truly possible.

“This is probably the best job I’ve ever had,” he said.

Erica Curry, director of program resources and practices at FoodCorps, oversees the development of resources for FoodCorps’ service program, including a new series of nutrition education lessons that makes it easier for schools to integrate hands-on nutrition education into standard curricula. FoodCorps is proud to be supported nationally by the Walmart Foundation as together we seek to reach children with high quality, impactful nutrition education that sets kids up for healthy futures.