Eat Greater Des Moines - Lyn Jenkins

Face of a Food Champion: Lyn Jenkins

Children in Des Moines are eating and enjoying healthy, local foods in schools through the Pick a Better Snack program. Funded by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) education, Pick a Better Snack is offered in schools where 60 percent or more of the children qualify for SNAP dollars.

assistant in classroom with small children
Pick a Better Snack educator Anita Turczynski connects children with local food, farming and gardens. Says educator Lyn Jenkins: “Any time we can do gardening, that is empowering to families and kids… to know they can be a part of their own system and grow their own food or go to the farmers market and support families in the area.” Photo contributed by Lyn Jenkins.

“We talk about being active and eating healthy,” says Lyn Jenkins, SNAP educator. She and a team of fellow SNAP educators, as well as AmeriCorps and FoodCorps volunteers, visit kindergarten through third grade classrooms between six and eight times a year, and their 30-minute lessons on food and nutrition include a taste-test of a healthy snack.

Jenkins cites edamame as a recently popular snack. “It’s so experiential,” she says of the soybean, picked green, cooked and served cold, “the way it feels and popping it out of the shell… and it was neat for [the kids] to know it can be grown local.”

The team tries to include a local item at least once each spring and fall, and often buys spinach, which can be grown in high tunnels for most of the year and be turned into smoothies or salads.

Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) uses local foods mostly for education, not in school lunches. But with the help of FoodCorps, in October 2012 DMPS tested local sweet potato fries at four schools during National Farm to School Week. DMPS also has more than 20 school gardens, “growing exponentially, it seems,” Jenkins observes. The garden produce is used in classroom lessons or sent home with the kids. Jenkins says this adds to the gardens’ value since families can take something home. “Especially when working with low-income families—that can make a big difference.”

DMPS purchases local foods from farms such as the Homestead, Grinnell Heritage and Coyote Run. Although it doesn’t have strong ties with any specific farmers, last year a FoodCorps member arranged for some farmers to visit elementary schools with produce and in one case, says Jenkins, a kid goat.

Jenkins orders some produce from the online Iowa Food Co-op, where she is a member. She also networks with several organizations around the city working in local foods, to contribute toward making healthy food available elsewhere beyond schools. Through the Healthy Polk 2020 movement, she connected with Eat Greater Des Moines.

Jenkins credits Eat Greater Des Moines with helping make sense of all the available resources for local foods and healthy living in the city. She says that it is hard to know what’s going on without such an organization to make connections and gather information “in a meaningful way.” For DMPS, she sees Eat Greater Des Moines’ meetings and website resources as a way to connect with people interested in food production or food education.

“Local foods have been a great piece in our education,” says Jenkins, explaining that even though Des Moines is surrounded by farms, within the city many children may not know that. “Simply tasting a local apple […] how fresh it can be—that’s important, and changes students’ expectations on what kind of food they want to have.”

About this story

This story was produced to accompany a report documenting the impact of the local food industry on Iowa’s economy associated with the efforts of the Regional Food Systems Working Group. Consult the statewide report: 2012 Economic Impacts of Iowa’s Regional Food Systems Working Group.

For more information on the local foods work occurring in the Des Moines region, visit the website: EatGreaterDesMoines.org.