Beyond the Plate to Capitol Hill: HISD Nutrition hosts USDA Deputy Under Secretary

HISD’s award-winning Nutrition Services Department welcomed guests on Jan. 30, including USDA Deputy Under Secretary Stacy Dean, for a roundtable discussion about Beyond the Plate, the district’s focus on building capacity within HISD communities to ensure they have access to healthy food options.

Nutrition Services also hosted Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty Regional Manager John Puder, Whole Kids Foundation Senior Director Kim Herrington, co-founder of Brighter Bites Dr. Shreela Sharma, Dr. Lisa Morano from the University of Houston Downtown, and others. 

School Nutrition and Agricultural Science Area Manager Marcus Glenn kicked off the discussion with a presentation on the progress made with the Food and Agriculture Literacy Center at Mykawa Farm, a six-acre working farm operated by HISD employees and students. The farm integrates nutrition and food science into its core curriculum and provides hands-on learning experiences to students. Glenn’s presentation included a tour of the farm, a run-through of its current programs, and plans for future development.

“The impact that federal assistance programs have on our communities give us the opportunity to not only grow our own food but learn about food so that we can have more healthy outcomes,” said Nutrition Services Officer Betti Wiggins. “It’s important that the Deputy Under Secretary decided to use HISD as an example of farm-to-school, which is one of the most highly thought of programs in terms of education and providing local produce to kids.”

Mykawa Farm contributes its harvests to schools and student-run farmers markets, and it isn’t HISD’s only farm-to-school initiative. Booker T. Washington High School’s agriculture program, under the leadership of teacher Dr. Surendra Surujdeo-Maharaj, has grown and distributed more than 2,000 containers of leafy greens in their community. Students learn about growing practices, including hydroponics and composting, and develop expertise in sustainable urban agriculture that they can pursue professionally after graduation.

“HISD has a national reputation, so I knew I had to come visit to hear about [their] farm-to-school efforts and all of the work [they are] doing to introduce kids to different kinds of foods, healthy foods,” said Dean. “I love the fact that HISD doesn’t just think about the foods you serve in the cafeteria, but about the whole child and the whole family. It’s really inspirational.”

Nutrition Services representatives and visiting stakeholders shared their strategies and the inadequacies in their resources with Dean, who has dedicated her career with the USDA to increasing nutritional assistance for struggling Americans and subvert shortcomings in school nutrition programs.

For more information on HISD’s Nutrition Services department, visit their webpage.