Welcome Farm to School Educator Joia Walker!

Joia Walker knows her passion for feeding people healthy food, with her since childhood, is a generational gift from her foremothers. “We’ve all, through our lineage, been into cooking and healing.” And she has made a profession of helping to feed and teach people about healthy food, including, now, in her new role at EarthDance as Farm to School Educator.

And because EarthDance was recently awarded one of 123 US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School implementation grants nationwide, Joia will get to facilitate a host of agricultural and nutritional programs as part of an ongoing partnership with the Ferguson-Florissant School District (FFSD) over the course of the next two years.

At EarthDance, Farm to School has been a growing part of the organic teaching farm’s programming. The USDA awarded EarthDance a planning grant between 2020-2022, and together with the FFSD, the EarthDance team has been working to create and pilot meaningful programs to help empower district students in meeting community needs for fresh food access and inspire interest in healthy eating among FFSD students. One such initiative is the Agri-culinary Program, which aims to improve access to fresh, organic produce and support high school students in exploring agricultural and culinary careers. This past spring, five Innovation School at Cool Valley students spent 2 mornings per week for 8 weeks working at the farm and at the school, participating in experiential learning about food and farming. Together the group planted seeds and tended them, rebuilt their school garden, visited and helped out at neighboring farms, and spent time working in the fields at EarthDance.

Joia’s path to EarthDance

When she started her healthy meal-prepping business, “Inheirited,” several years ago, Joia, who had worked in theater, insurance, and food service, felt it was a natural progression for her. “I love to eat, but I actually have a passion for what other people are eating and putting in their bodies. I see people doing harm to themselves by their food choices. If it’s the matter of not having access to it, I want to help provide access to it. I want to help offer the knowledge of how to prepare it and make it taste good. I want to provide education to help people have and eat healthier food. It’s not going to taste bad just because it’s a vegetable.”

Joia found her way to the EarthDance Americorps summer apprenticeship this past spring, when her concerns about the health of store bought produce became too intense to ignore.  “I was looking around and would see seedless foods, and I thought, ‘Is this new, what is this, is it real?’ At the same time, I began to more deeply consider my purpose, and I prayed about it. I put it out there.” After doing some research, she decided it was time to really dig into learning to grow her own food, both for herself and in the interest of helping others learn to eat better. An internet search led her directly to EarthDance.

Joia, along with 4 other summer apprentices in the first of two cohorts of summer 2022, spent the first 10 weeks of this summer working and learning in connection with the people, earth, plants and other beings (Tom the farm cat, especially!) of EarthDance. Joia said her experience at the farm has been amazing. She learned many skills (suckering tomatoes is her favorite new skill!) during her time with EarthDance. She has also steadily grown into new knowledge and experiences with organic farming.

And, having experienced plant-based healing with her own health issues in the past, she has especially enjoyed learning more about the healing properties of herbs. Joia also naturally gravitated to working with students visiting the farm. When there were tours or lessons to offer, Joia was often the first to volunteer. And so, the Farm to School Educator role is a natural fit and next step for her.

Farm to School at EarthDance

Joia lives in Florissant now, and she grew up in Ferguson and attended FFSD schools (Ferguson Middle School and Mcluer North Senior High School.) She is excited about every aspect of the EarthDance/Ferguson-Florissant School District Farm to School Program, especially with the recent grant award. To name just a few of the activities planned over the course of the next two years with Farm to School:

  • Agri-culinary internship – a program that invites students to participate in farming and food programming tailored to their interests, two mornings per week. Participants will include Innovation School student interns, serving four cohorts of 6-8 students each for a total of 24-32 students, with activities including:
    • Mobile kitchen/Charlie Cart to be used weekly for on-farm cooking activities with guest chefs, taste-tests, student-led value added product creation. The mobile kitchen will also be made available for “check-out” by Ferguson-Florissant teachers for use at school. 
    • Farming and gardening, including helping bring in the harvest, plant seedlings, sow seeds, pull weeds, tend to the chickens, and more
    • Exploration of the business aspects of working in the farming and food service industries
    • Developing and launching farm to school social media channel (TikTok) to share updates about Farm to School activities, and to share where to access (and how to cook with!) local produce, such as the Ferguson Farmers Market and Pay What You Can Farm Stand opportunities. Post videos weekly during cycles of 10-week agri-culinary internship operation. 
  • School garden work days, especially at schools that have existing beds in need of transformation
  • Lead four Seasonal (spring and fall) School Garden Teacher Professional Development Workshops, two per year, targeting 10 teachers to attend each session.

In her new role, Joia will be able to help seed and grow a legacy aligned with something beautiful she has witnessed and spent time considering at the farm. As she learned about bolting, the process by which many plants flower and go to seed, she found powerful meaning. “Bolting, especially in less favorable conditions like high heat, is like the plants communicating that, ‘Hey, I’m not going to be here forever, but I can leave something behind. It’s like they are looking out for the next generation of plants, saying, ‘I can’t make it, but I can produce a seed.’” For Joia it also reminded her of people raising and teaching children. “You always want your kids to have it better than you have. That bolting process reminded me of parents and teachers wanting to provide something for the next generation. That romaine would grow upward and get really tight at the top. I imagined it spiraling upward and pushing tighter until the seed was produced to ensure the next generation could grow and thrive.”

This week, Joia is at the National USDA Farm to School Implementation Grantee Gathering in Boston, Massachusetts. She is attending as EarthDance’s representative, along with folks from the other 122 organizations throughout the country working toward alignment with the USDA’s goals of building and supporting more resilient local and regional food production, and ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities. In the last 10 years, the USDA has increased its focus and resource allocation to Farm to School programs across the country. According to the USDA, Farm to School increases the amount of locally produced foods served through child nutrition programs, while also educating children about how their foods are harvested and prepared.

Join our newsletter list at the link below for more updates on the Farm to School program and stay tuned on social media for updates on Joia’s experiences at the training!