McGrows Intern Pursues Food Justice

Barriers to nutritious foods and nutrition education impact under served urban areas throughout the United States. McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm actively works towards promoting food justice by removing these barriers through empowering the local community. The existence of the farm increases local access to fresh fruits and vegetables. By hosting multiple volunteer organizations and having a free food forest open to the public, the farm strengthens relationships. Most importantly it functions as an educational platform for various youth programs to learn more about the food system, environmental stewardship, and fresh produce.  

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I worked as a summer intern for McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm during my junior year as a dietetic student attending Western Michigan University. After my experience, I decided to explore how teaching children about produce, through garden-based education promotes confidence, autonomy, and self-efficacy and wrote five individual lesson plans using the Theory of Planned Behavior. The curriculum is uniquely tailored to an urban landscape, and specifically highlights unique resources at McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm, such as the free food forest. The plans are designed so that an older teen or adult can teach young children about where food comes from, pollinators, how plants grow, food forests, and farm tool safety using a hands-on approach to foster self-confidence in the out doors. The curriculum targets urban learners, ages 6-10, who visit the farm throughout the summer. Each lesson plan uses pre and post-test assessments to evaluate change in knowledge, attitude and self-confidence toward new concepts about fruits and vegetables. Three anticipated outcomes at the end of the program will be willingness of participants to try new foods and to consume more fruits and vegetables, and numbers of volunteer teachers who have increased their self-confidence to teach this material.

The purpose of my project is to promote food justice through empowering children with little or no exposure to farms or gardening to become active participants in their local food system. This is what the farm strives to do every time they host children throughout the summer, and I hope the lesson plans and assessments I created will help further their success.

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I presented my project at the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spring conference. Many dietitians agreed that by hosting children during the summer at McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm is a proactive way to develop life-long healthy eating habits through early exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables. Garden-based education is a progressive tool that has been under utilized in the past, but leaders like McLaughlin Grows are changing that and inspiring other communities to follow suit.

Lauren Johnson, a Muskegon native, interned at Community enCompass during the 2017 season. She served as a farm intern at McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm working with volunteer groups and planting and weeding throughout the season. She also worked on the Muskegon Prescribes Food for Health implementation guide by participating in monthly meetings and formatting the final guide for state submission.