When President Bill Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act into law in 1993, he introduced the concept of community service to a new generation of young people through the flagship AmeriCorps program. Now, in the same grand tradition, a new project has been launched: FoodCorps. The goal, here, is to build “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.” To that end, FoodCorps outlines three key tasks for its Service Members:
- Deliver hands-on nutrition education
- Build and tend school gardens
- Bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias
FoodCorps’ co-founder and program director, Debra Eschmeyer, explained, “As a nation, we are tightening our fiscal belt, yet health-related obesity costs are projected to reach $344 billion by 2018. FoodCorps is a sound investment in a healthy future and gives our kids a chance to beat back the painful and costly epidemic of diet-related disease.” In addition to those benefits, FoodCorps also provides community service jobs for young people who are currently enduring the highest levels of unemployment across all age groups.
Also among the founding team members are Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, the two guys behind the Peabody-winning documentary King Corn. They are joined by folks, like Eschmeyer, who have worked at Slow Food USA, the National Farm to School Network, and the Montana FoodCorps. Combined, they bring a solid pedigree of food activism to the program.
The FoodCorps idea was hatched on Earth Day 2009. On August 15 of this year, the first wave of FoodCorps volunteers converged in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to begin a week-long training with Will Allen of the Growing Power Community Food Center. Some 1,229 applicants were in the running for the initial 50 positions that will be dispersed across 10 states: Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon. Nonprofit organizations in those states have partnered with FoodCorps to host the newly minted workers.
In Portland, Oregon, Growing Gardens serves that function and is already actively managing gardens at five low-income schools in the area. Caitlin Blethen, who manages the group’s Youth Grow program, understands the FoodCorps potential: “I see it definitely as a starting point for something much bigger. Our goal is to create the next generation of healthy organic vegetable eaters and growers.”
To become a Service Member, mentor, or volunteer, visit the FoodCorps website.