Northern Valley Catholic Social Services (NVCSS) CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL) program partnered with the Enterprise Elementary School District, Fork Farms, Shasta College Corp, and Providence Greenhouses to establish gardens, hydroponics, and greenhouses at every school in the district. College fellows installed and supported 8 hydroponics systems, started or reinvigorated 6 school gardens, taught over 100 hours of nutrition and gardening lessons, distributed indirect education, and planted over 600 plants. The collaboration has resulted in increased access to healthy food, provided volunteer hours, educated the students and parents, developed sustainable systems, and improved the health and wellness of students and their families.
In 2019, NVCSS formed a partnership with the Enterprise Elementary School District (EESD) to enhance the well-being of its 3,672 students with lower incomes across seven schools in Shasta County. NVCSS's CFHL program initiated this partnership by offering nutrition education, which later expanded into various PSE projects aimed at improving opportunities for structured physical activity in after-school programs. With the cost of food and living continuously increasing, the need for improved access to healthy food is high for students throughout EESD. School staff also reported observing students consuming high amounts of less healthy foods and beverages throughout the day, starting with breakfast. It became clear to school staff and the CFHL staff that more support was needed to improve access to healthy food.
In 2020, the CFHL team began working with the district and schools to create sustainable changes and increase access to healthy food. The process jump-started with the award of the USDA Farm to School Turnkey Grant which helped to implement new edible gardens and reinvigorate current gardens throughout EESD. Some schools needed more time to prepare to participate in the project, so CFHL focused efforts on the schools with the capacity and willingness to support an edible garden.
For equipment and staff assistance clearing the land and readying the space, NVCSS reached out to Providence International, a non-profit that shares a commitment to improving food security and food access in Shasta County. Providence International eagerly became a key partner. After productive discussions with all partners, including EESD’s superintendent, Providence International was chosen to provide greenhouses to all eight EESD schools with funding provided by EESD. These greenhouses would ensure learning opportunities, fundraising opportunities through the sale of plant seedlings, and the ability to grow food-producing plants from seeds to transplant to the outdoor gardens.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed progress as schools were overwhelmed with the constant climate of uncertainty and were hesitant to take on the responsibility of running a garden. The CFHL team began exploring solutions, which led them to a partnership with Fork Farms, a hydroponics system producer. Given the low-maintenance, high-impact nature of hydroponics, the CFHL team decided to purchase 6 systems, with the plan to install greenhouses and Flex Farm hydroponics district-wide. By the end of the 2022 school year, plans were underway for the district-wide installation of greenhouses and hydroponics. With the addition of this equipment, however, concerns began to arise about the level of support each school would need to maintain and sustain success.
When CFHL discovered the new Shasta College Corp program was launching in fall 2022, it was clear that a partnership was needed to bring additional support to the schools. The goal of the Shasta College Corp program is to engage Shasta College students in meaningful service opportunities that build career pathways, leadership skills, and civic responsibility. NVCSS became a host site for Shasta College Corp and began the 2022-2023 school year with ten volunteer fellows. Working with the CFHL garden supervisor, the fellows were trained to assemble the hydroponic systems and help maintain the Providence Greenhouses. Each fellow also received training on delivering garden education and began teaching garden and nutrition education to students.
The impact of the collaboration between Shasta College Corp, CFHL, and EESD has been substantial. The fellows installed and supported 8 hydroponics systems, started or reinvigorated 6 school gardens, taught over 100 hours of nutrition and garden lessons, distributed nutrition education materials, planted over 600 plants, and demonstrated care and concern for the students. The fellows proved to be imperative to the successes, and the CFHL team was able to expand and hire one of the fellows to be a full-time nutrition educator.
The produce from these units will directly benefit the students within the school by either being consumed in the cafeteria or sent home. Some schools have regular salad parties where the students actively harvest the produce. School staff report observing many students eating salad for the first time and eating lettuce leaves and herbs directly from the unit.
Despite its benefits, the collaboration came with challenges, such as managing busy schedules and communication difficulties. However, the passion for serving students in Shasta County remained strong. Lessons learned include the need for teacher champions, garden coordinators, and a garden educator to maintain resources. School staff should also be trained to handle emergencies with the greenhouse and hydroponic systems. To address these needs, CFHL received additional funding to support onsite teacher champions to maintain the greenhouses and hydroponic systems, and the superintendent hired a garden coordinator to support all schools and ensure that garden-based education continues throughout the school year.
CFHL and Shasta College Corp will continue to partner to provide volunteer support throughout the next school year and beyond. Along with the fellows, teacher champions, garden coordinator, and CFHL garden supervisor, CFHL added a full-time garden educator to the CFHL team. CFHL plans to continue to encourage schools to use the support to expand and develop outdoor gardens and ensure the garden produce is provided to the students in the cafeteria, at snack time, or at home.
Overall, this collaboration has increased access to healthy food, provided volunteer hours, educated the students and parents, developed sustainable systems, and improved the health and wellness of students and their families.
Tenneal Bringle; 530.392.2974