FoodCorps looks to the future

Amid Trump’s aggressive budget cuts, the AmeriCorps grantee strives to keep bringing healthy food to schools

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As the child of an immigrant and single parent, Sumer Ladd has witnessed firsthand the injustices of the deeply flawed food system, where ordering a Big Mac is faster and cheaper than making a salad. Thankfully, her mother’s Iranian heritage came out in holistic leanings, home-cooked meals and a backyard vegetable garden. bSometimes healthy diets can be a rarity for families that are low income, and yet I grew up with the idea that healthy foods don’t have to be expensive,b Ladd says. bWhen there is less fresh produce available, you need to get resourceful and seek out the healthy options.b

Inspired to help others do the same, Ladd studied agricultural communication at University of Georgia and then served as a FoodCorps service member for two years in Georgia. Her first year of service was in Habersham County with the Northeast Georgia Farm to School Program. She returned for a second year to work with the Captain Planet Foundation in Atlanta, putting the blue-faced, green-haired superhero’s message of environmental stewardship and teamwork into practice with a garden-to-cafeteria program at local schools.

As a service member, Ladd taught lessons on gardening, nutrition and food justice to students ranging from pre-K through high school. She created lesson plans aligning STEM curriculums with healthy eating initiatives and assisted in maintaining the schoolbs vegetable garden. bOur goal is to help kids establish a deep connection to food and where it comes from,b she says. bThe opportunity to serve the communities and kids who are growing up the way I grew up has benefitted me personally as well as my career.b

Now a full-time FoodCorps State Fellow, Ladd oversees the state program, supporting nine service members around Georgia and advocating for the continuation of FoodCorps. The yearlong program, locally overseen by state partner Georgia Organics,B places service members in limited-resource communities to establish farm-to-school initiatives and improve school lunch options. In August, theybll also begin working with refugees through Atlantabs International Rescue Committee.

However, President Donald Trump’s new budget proposal aims to eliminate funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal government agency thatB engages more than five million Americans in community service through AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve America, Senior Corps and other national initiatives. bIt is not a core function of the federal government to promote volunteerism, and therefore, these programs should be eliminated,b the Trump administration wrote.

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As part of the AmeriCorps service network, this news is deeply alarming for FoodCorps. But program organizers remain hopeful. Co-founder and Communications Director Jerusha Klemperer notes that only 20 percent of FoodCorps funding comes from AmeriCorps (the rest comes from other foundations as well as corporate and private donors), and while Trumpbs budget does propose a cut toB CNCS, “it’s not the president who creates the budget, rather Congress.b She adds that “in the past, Congress has shown strong bipartisan support for national service, reflecting the strong support that national service has amongst voters of all stripes.b

In this light, Klemperer remains bvigilant but hopefulb about FoodCorps’ future. Since it started in 2011, the program has helped train nearly 450 alumni. About half opt to serve a second year, andB many go on to work with USDA assistance programs like the National School Lunch Program or Farm to School. Others return to university to obtain degrees in nutrition or food policy, and some even become entrepreneurs, opening bakeries and inventing sustainable health food products like ginger elixirs and crackers made from crickets. B

bThe most gratifying thing for me is to see young, inexperienced people become wonderful service members, and now they are continuing that work,b Klemperer says. bAll of our alumni are writing to and calling their representatives to tell their stories of how service impacted their communities and how it impacted them as a person.”

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