Apple Seeds

Sarah Zalucha, a former volunteer and program coordinator at Apple Seeds Inc., harvests squash and zucchini at the Apple Seeds Teaching Farm in Fayetteville.

In 2017, less than four percent of Arkansas adolescents consumed their daily recommended intake of vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A projected 30% of Arkansas children will experience hunger in 2021, according to Feeding America.

In response to this nutritional crisis, employees at one Fayetteville nonprofit organization are working to combat food insecurity and help Arkansas children eat better.

Apple Seeds Inc. was established in 2007 with the goal of providing children with access to healthy food and teaching nutritional skills through garden-based education. Volunteers and employees run several programs for children to learn about healthy living.

Julia Nall, a UA alumna and volunteer coordinator for Apple Seeds, was shocked to learn that only half of Arkansas children ate vegetables every day, and she was eager to help make a difference, she said.

“That was really shocking to me because with food insecurity, it’s multifaceted,” Nall said. “It’s not just about not having food, it’s about not having healthy food or not understanding how to use that healthy food or not feeling comfortable with it.”

The Apple Seeds team focuses on the nutritional element of food insecurity and helping children get comfortable with trying new things, Nall said. Employees at the non-profit work to ensure that students have an understanding of the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables and where they come from.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly exacerbated food insecurity in Arkansas, leading Apple Seeds’ employees to step up their food donation efforts. In 2020, Apple Seeds donated 4,550 family size portions of produce and distributed 5 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables to students and their families, according to Apple Seeds’ 2020 annual report.

“I think it makes a big difference to them,” program manager Lizzie Park said. “I think it’s really nice when a family gets this packet of fresh produce and it’s like, ‘Oh, we can sit down and have a really nice, fresh-from-the-garden, home-cooked meal that is coming directly from the plant.’”

Formed as an offshoot of the Ozark Natural Foods market in 2005, Apple Seeds started as an organization called “Apples in the Classrooms.” Members took ingredients and apple-based recipes to local classrooms and made them with students.

“We became more aware of a higher need for more interaction and more connection with where food comes from,” Park said. “So from there we started getting involved in school gardens…but we became more aware that that just wasn’t feasible for every school.”

The original Apples in the Classrooms team recognized the small group did not have the ability to build gardens at every school, Park said, so it developed a plan in conjunction with the Fayetteville city government to combat food insecurity by opening the Apple Seeds Teaching Farm in Gulley Park.

The organization now offers several different educational programs for students. Carolina Cantu, the “Growing My Plant” program coordinator, teaches a six-week course for 8- to 18-year-olds that covers basic nutritional concepts and cooking skills.

“Each lesson is focused on something different,” Cantu said. “We talk about the five food groups, eating the rainbow and all the different colored fruits and vegetables and what they do for you.”

Since Apple Seeds’ founding, employees have been passionate about getting children excited for healthy eating. Through the group’s programs, they have been able to build a relationship with the Fayetteville community, Park said.

“What we try to do is a little bit different because we try to build enthusiasm from the ground up so that fresh food becomes something that they are enthusiastic about and seek out,” Park said. “It builds that connection, so it makes it a much stronger, much more memorable experience.”

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