On April 2, FoodCorps New Jersey service member Alexis Sangalang joined First Lady Michelle Obama and five other FoodCorps leaders to plant the sixth season of the White House Kitchen Garden with students from Washington, D.C. Sangalang serves with the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids in Camden, NJ, and works closely with Campbell’s Healthy Communities to serve six schools and community partners in Camden.
FoodCorps is hosted in New Jersey by the Department of Family and Community Health Sciences (FCHS) at Rutgers Cooperative Extension and the New Jersey Farm to School Network, and is part of the AmeriCorps Service Network. This nationwide program is dedicated to teaching children about healthy food, how it grows, and where it comes from, and ensuring they have access to these foods every day. Serving under the direction of state and community partners, FoodCorps members across the country dedicate a year of public service to help children grow up in healthy school food environments.
FoodCorps expanded into New Jersey in September of 2013 and added a network of eight service sites delivering Farm to School programming to high-need communities to combat childhood obesity.
In 2009, the First Lady planted a vegetable garden on the South Lawn to initiate a national conversation around the health and wellbeing of our nation—a conversation that evolved into Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. Since the launch of Let’s Move! in 2010, parents, business leaders, educators, elected officials, military leaders, chefs, physicians, athletes, childcare providers, community and faith leaders, and even kids themselves have stepped up to promote the health of our nation’s children.
Sarah Dixon, fellow for New Jersey FoodCorps, explained the process of being selected for the honor of planting at the White House. “Service members were selected for the White House garden planting based on a combination of ability to travel, FoodCorps national representation (New Jersey is a brand new FoodCorps state), and “word on the street” about who our standout service members are.”
FoodCorps service members are in 400 schools around the country connecting kids to real food by primarily getting them engaged in the garden, adds Dixon. “The First Lady and her Let’s Move initiative value the impact that this service is having and honored our service members and our program by inviting us to help plant the White House kitchen garden.”
Some of Sangalang’s service activities include finding soil donations for school gardens, teaching kids about protein through making hummus and learning about chickpeas and holding cafeteria taste tests with local produce to find new, local, favorite foods like sweet potatoes and beets.
The co-hosts for New Jersey FoodCorps are Jennifer Shukaitis, senior program coordinator with FCHS and Beth Feehan, director of the New Jersey Farm to School Network, a non-profit organization that has been in existence since 2008 working on farm-to-school in New Jersey and serving as the state’s lead agency for the National Farm to School Network.
Feehan, a journalism graduate from Rutgers who also cooperates with Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bordentown, NJ, on its Farm to School grants, values the partnership with Rutgers. “Co-hosting FoodCorps with Rutgers Cooperative Extension is a fantastic collaboration between New Jersey’s land grant institution, rooted in agriculture and nutrition education, and our grass roots non-profit organization working on behalf of the residents of the Garden State.”
FoodCorps Service Members are placed with partnering service sites throughout the state to participate in three main activities, which are also known as the “three pillars” of FoodCorps: engaging kids and school staff in school gardens; teaching kids about healthy food; and improving farm-to-school access. New Jersey’s members are serving at the following sites: City Green, Inc.; Philip’s Academy Charter School; Greater Brunswick Charter School; Isles, Inc.; NJ Partnership for Healthy Kids – Camden; Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Gloucester County; Salem County Vo-Tech Schools; and Salem County Health Department.