When Delaney Farris first joined FoodCorps, she had no idea how deeply invested she would become in the program and its participants.
Evidence of the hard work she has poured into the Van Buren School District can be seen across campus gardens, in classrooms and on cafeteria salad bars. She has helped expand existing agriculture efforts and led the charge to connect schools to the community through gardening and nutrition education.
The Crawford County native stepped into her role as VBSD FoodCorps team member in 2017. Implemented by AmeriCorps, the national initiative partners with local schools and organizations to engage children and help give them knowledge about, and access to, nutritious foods.
At the time Farris was assigned, the program had been in place at Van Buren for only one year, but was already experiencing great success.
“When Delaney came to Van Buren, we were still in the learning process, but were receiving positive feedback about FoodCorps and the impact it was having on students,” said VBSD Activities Administrator Drew Cone. “She took what we already had and built upon that, leading to the creation of gardens at Central and Rena Elementary Schools.
“She has also been instrumental in adding outdoor classroom features at Parkview,” he continued, “as well as a chicken coop and a greenhouse.”
Farris is passionate about teaching students the value of growing their own food. She visits classrooms and takes learning outside, where students plant and harvest items. She also partners with educators to integrate her work into their curriculum and to hold special activities such as farmer’s markets and family nights.
Farris oversees the Sprout Scouts program, which gives interested students even more opportunities to work outdoors. She also holds routine taste tests to expose students to healthy produce direct from the school garden. Such engagement helps open students’ minds to the possibility of trying new foods and venturing outside their comfort zones.
“I have a student who isn’t fond of trying new things,” said Farris. “We have a deal that he can just smell whatever we are tasting. We were in our herb garden checking on our basil and mint and trying the leaves. He picked a basil leaf, gave it a smell, and we moved on. A few minutes, later I hear him yelling, ‘This basil is DEVINE, Miss Delaney. I really think I need to take some home to my family!’”
Farris has countless other examples of students who have expanded their pallets and discovered the deliciousness of new fruits and vegetables. She has also seen the influence the program has had on teachers and families.
“The biggest success for me is the growth, curiosity and engagement from students and staff that I see in the hallways, in classrooms, in the garden and in their homes. The teachers and staff of the schools I serve are eager to support their students in hands-on garden-based education. They are taking garden lessons and tying them into their curriculum independently. They’re inviting me into their classrooms more often and they’re always willing to volunteer well beyond their school day. This is success in terms of sustainability.”
District leaders recognize the profound impact Farris has had on the program.
“Delaney is self-driven and willing to take on any task given to her,” said Cone. “She has taken FoodCorps in Van Buren to a new level and secured well over $12,000 in grants and donations to further the education students receive.”
In 2018, Central was recognized with a prestigious “Garden of the Year” Award from Governor Asa Hutchinson.
Farris’ efforts have also helped the district come closer to achieving long-term nutrition and food sourcing goals.
“She has closed the gap in our Farm to School initiatives by facilitating local lettuce in the Parkview cafeteria,” explained Cone.
Farris coordinated with Peace Farm Organics in Van Buren and secured funding to introduce organic, locally-grown lettuce on the school’s salad bar.
“Arkansas is an agricultural state, which means many community members are in some way engaged in food production and that definitely rings true of the community of Van Buren,” Farris pointed out.
She said she looks forward to VBSD incorporating more local products on its menu, thus providing students even more nutritional options and reinvesting taxpayer dollars directly back into the local economy.
“I know we can do it, but there is a lot of work on the front end,” she said.
Farris also believes that developing a cohesive and linear garden education program across all grade levels is an important next step for VBSD.
“We have a strong FFA chapter, and a great agriculture teacher at the high school, but we are missing the middle schools,” she said. “To be able to bridge that middle school gap and give students the opportunity to engage in garden-based education from kindergarten to their senior year would be a huge success.”
District leaders share this desire.
“Our elementary school gardens, FoodCorps curriculum and FFA, teach important life skills and create lasting memories,” noted Cone. “Our plan is to eventually give all K-12 students access to these valuable programs.”
After two incredibly “fruitful” years, Farris will soon complete her tenure as a FoodCorps service member.
“My heart truly struggles when I think of leaving these students,” she said. “I get to work outside, hands dirty, discovering new things alongside these little people all day.”
Just as she has made an impact on the schools she’s served, the experience and students she’s encountered have forever impacted Farris,as well.
“The things they have shared with me, the stories they’ve told and the laughs they have given me are irreplaceable memories,” she said. “Hands down, the best part of serving in FoodCorps/AmeriCorps has been the people I am surrounded by. The gardens are great too, don’t get me wrong, but without the people the gardens mean nothing.”