Unintended Pathways: Farm to School and the SDGs

In 2010, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) in Washington D.C. passed the DC Healthy Schools Act as a response to an increase in children’s sedentary lifestyles and obesity in the school system[1]. The Act increased students’ access to free breakfast and reduced-cost lunch, a Farm to School program, and nutrition and health education programs. This article discusses the development benefits of this program, and how it can help achieve various targets of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a universal development agenda adopted in 2015.SDG-goals_Goal-02 Zero Hunger

Our analysis shows that the Farm to School program is connected to seven of the seventeen SDGs, raising the question of how to pursue synergies between existing local initiatives and the recently adopted SDGs to most effectively fulfill community and international development objectives.

While initiatives created irrespective of the SDGs can have a substantial positive impact on community development, such as the DC Farm to School program, we argue that such programs will have a more substantial and sustainable impact on communal development if established within the SDG framework. For this case study, we interviewed Erica Walther, a Farm to School program expert with the OSSE, to gain a deeper understanding of the Act’s Farm to School program that educates children on the importance of eating healthy, locally grown food and, for some, how to overcome the pitfalls of living in a ‘Food Desert.’ Walther’s department established relationships with public and private DC schools, from elementary to high school, to emphasize the importance of and encourage sourcing school lunches locally. Approximately eighty schools have since adopted locally-sourced lunch and breakfast options[2] and now, on average, 25% of lunches are provided by farms in the DC-MD-VA (DMV) area.[3] Furthermore, Walther’s department provides educational resources to administrators and teachers to individualize lesson plans about the earth, climate change, deforestation, marine pollution, sustainable farming and food consumption.SDG-goals_Goal-03 Good Health & Well-Being

To enable students with hands-on experience, Walther’s Farm to School initiative awarded schools with grants to establish school gardens and fund field trips to local farms. In the 2016-2017 academic year alone, the OSSE established twenty-one new school gardens, raising the DC total to 128 school gardens and impacting thousands of students. Further, while speaking with education administrators, Walther realized that schools did not allocate field trip money for farm field trips; therefore, in the 2016-2017 school year, OSSE granted $19,500 each to 12 DC schools, enabling more than 500 students to visit and interact with farms in the DMV area.[4]Furthermore, due to the OSSE’s concerted efforts for sustainable living practices, the students participating in this Farm to School program not only eat healthier during the day but take those lessons home to their families. The OSSE also works to incorporate entire families by hosting events open to the public to inform them of healthy, local food sources in the area.[5] The parents’ participation in this initiative will further inform and maintain their children’s understanding of health, nutrition, and exercise.

SDG-goals_Goal-04 Quality EducationBecause the Farm to School program was established prior to the SDGs, it did not intend to integrate an international sustainable development approach. Nonetheless, the program contributes to several SDGs through unintended pathways. It furthers SDG 2 by ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year, and setting the groundwork for sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices. It furthers SDG 3 by ensuring healthy lives and well-being by teaching how to reduce water and soil pollution. It furthers SDG 12 by promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns by teaching students to decrease food waste and providing a medium by which to share relevant information and increase awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles. It furthers SDG 13 by improving education and human/institutional capacity for climate change mitigation. It furthers SDG 15 by teaching students to conserve and restore ecosystems and halt deforestation, land degradation and biodiversity loss.

SDG-goals_Goal-12 Responsible Consumption & Production

To pursue synergies between existing local initiatives and the SDGs, the Farm to School program should be updated to formally incorporate the SDGs’ comprehensive guidelines in forging a cross-sectoral and holistic approach to development in the DMV area. By incorporating the #teachSDGs curriculum and updating the Farm to School program within the SDG framework, local teachers will have access to a wider and more detailed array of educational resources, enabling a broader and more sustainable impact. The teachers can choose which area of influence a field trip or lesson emphasizes, enabling various courses to delve into topics such as externalities, pollution, deforestation, land degradation, biodiversity loss and ecosystem conservation.

SDG-goals_Goal-13 Climate ActionTeaching these interlinkages and skills to children now sets the stage

SDG-goals_Goal-15 Life On Land

 for future success. Students will be more globally-minded and will continue to support and further the SDGs in a holistic and comprehensive manner. “The interlinkages and integrated nature of the [SDGs] are of crucial importance in ensuring that the purpose of the new Agenda is realized. If we realize our ambitions across the full extent of the Agenda, the lives of all will be profoundly improved and our world will be transformed for the better.”[6] This mode of education engenders more globally-minded and conscientious students that are more likely to sustain the SDGs as adults, looking beyond the year 2030.


Additional Resources

[1] Craig, Tim. D.C. Council Launching Campaign Against Childhood ObesityWashington Post. May 2010.

[2] Kang, Hanseul. District of Columbia Healthy Schools Act 2017 ReportOffice of the State Superintendent of Education. Pg 12.

[3] Walther, Erica. Interview by Emilee Derbas. Personal Interview. Washington, D.C., November 17, 2017.

[4] Kang, Hanseul. District of Columbia Healthy Schools Act 2017 ReportOffice of the State Superintendent of Education. Pg 8, 88-89.

[5] OSSE. Strawberries & Salad Greens Day. 2017

[6] United Nations. 2015. “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” General Assembly 70 Session. p.2.

References: International Institute for Sustainable Development. 2018. Retrieved from http://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/generation-2030/unintended-pathways-farm-to-school-and-the-sdgs/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2018-02-27%20-%20SDG%20Update%20AE&utm_content=2018-02-27%20-%20SDG%20Update%20AE%20CID_819bf7c2cba6911ea4f0a8264bd3cdfd&utm_source=cm&utm_term=Unintended%20Pathways%20Farm%20to%20School%20and%20the%20SDGs

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