HISD Nutrition Services earns top 10 spot in international challenge

HISD’s Nutrition Services Department is committed to mitigating inequity in childhood nutrition in the Houston area. Since the inception of Mykawa Farm, home to the department’s Food and Agriculture Literacy Center, Nutrition Services has prioritized practical and tangible uses for the education they provide through the Get Growing Houston program.

Nutrition Services recently took their ideas to a global stage, reaching top 10 in the Healthy Childhood Challenge (HCC). The international competition launched by Novo Nordisk in collaboration with UNICEF calls for ideas designed to improve the nutritional, physical, and emotional well-being of children in their home environments.

The HCC is open to all communities and organizations across the globe, and with a prize of $100,000 in grant funds to enact the top three winning ideas, the competition is fierce.

Get Growing Houston’s idea proposes hosting farmers’ markets at 25 Houston-area schools to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in food desert communities. The farmers’ markets will be stocked with produce grown by school gardening programs as well as at Mykawa Farm. HISD’s trained dieticians and chefs will help increase food and agriculture literacy among students and parents.

Nutrition Services has already started implementing their plan on a smaller scale, having the HISD students employed at Mykawa Farm sell their produce at local farmers’ markets.

“We realized that it gives kids real-world experience when they are able to run the markets, and it also empowers them,” said Marcus Glenn, School Nutrition and Agriculture Science Area Manager with HISD Nutrition Services. “They’re able to talk about what it is that they’ve planted and why you should eat these vegetables that they’ve grown versus ones from the store or other places.”

Of 100 entrants, Get Growing Houston is one of only three finalists from the United States.

“The idea was chosen as it is a strong, multi-component program addressing food access, nutrition literacy, employability, and more,” said Klaus Madsen, Get Growing Houston’s coach for the HCC.

Get Growing Houston’s proposal also includes educational opportunities for parents through their Parent University programs. Parents and students engage in experiential learning activities developed to increase food and agriculture literacy among HISD students Grades 3-12. These activities will focus on food preparation, learning about nutritional benefits of locally grown food, and the impact that our food choices have on personal, family, and community health.

“We could use this for further fundraising or for grant applications as recognition that our program is strong and we’ve got people around the world who think it’s pretty great, too,” said Nan Cramer, Nutrition Services director.

The top 10 HCC contestants will have the opportunity to make a final presentation to a panel of Novo Nordisk judges. Get Growing Houston is preparing their proposal and making plans to enact their ideas to work toward a more nutritionally diverse future for HISD students and their families. In order take students beyond a consumer relationship with food, the program will continue its focus on building mindful eating habits ensuring students learn to enjoy the food available to them at home.