Transforming the food system through elementary schools

By: Stephanie Lip, ASU Food Systems graduate student.

During our December immersive, we had the pleasure of touring and participating in the farm-to-school and “edible education” program called Garfield’s Garden on the Corner. Led and managed by the Mollen Foundation, we experienced the collaborative efforts between the Foundation and Garfield Elementary School. We met with Paige Mollen, co-founder of the Mollen Foundation, and Katie Poirier, Executive Director of the Mollen Foundation – both are alumni of ASU’s Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Graduate Program. We also met with Maya Dailey, Garden Site Manager, Alex Layshock, Garden Specialist, and Jessie Hess, Kitchen Classroom Specialist. I was particularly excited to get a glimpse of Garfield’s Garden on the Corner because a partnership with a program like this is my hope as a school food service director.   

School Food

Working closely with the District’s Child Nutrition Department, the Mollen Foundation secured grants to incorporate school garden-grown produce into the menus and to purchase new cooking equipment to prepare more scratch-cooked meals. The tilt skillet and combi ovens were showcased, but their successful installation would not have occurred without the buy-in from the District. The District covered the costs of structural issues and installed a grease trap so the new equipment could be used. Collaboration with local chefs was helpful in the development and execution of new menu items after considering students’ preferences.

Community Food Pantry

In the midst of the pandemic while schools were closed, the Mollen Foundation heard many stories of families being hungry and small farmers having trouble selling their produce and losing vendors. In collaboration with Trinity, food bags with garden produce and other foods were put together for 270 families from July 2020 to May 2021. When school returned to in-person, the Community Food Pantry continued through Trinity and its partnership with Aim Right. The school’s Parent Coordinator works closely to identify families who may be in need.


Maya welcomed the group into the “Opening Circle” – a safe space in the garden for students to listen and share – and prompted us with a question to become more in tune with ourselves and to learn about each other. She asked us to describe a time in which we had a prolific or profound experience in the natural world. It was a question that was meant to get us more centered in thinking about how nature and our culture interface. One by one, we shared and listened to each other’s experiences – each unique and varied and taught us a little more about one another.

As we walked around the campus, it was amazing to walk through an abundant campus where gardens of vegetables, fruit trees, and native plants were thriving. A chicken coop had a home and its chicken run housed the compost that was produced using the Bokashi method. Alex explained the Bokashi compost method and talked about the school’s adoption of composting food waste. The students in particular have taken ownership of sorting their food waste and will be the ones to train other grade levels. Maya talked about seed saving and the importance of preserving the practice and diversity in the seeds. She talked about teaching moments within seed diversity; how diversity in seeds opens up conversations about diversity in culture. 

Our last stop was the kitchen classroom, where we enjoyed garden-grown kimchi and soy-sesame noodles prepared by Jessie and Alex. The students that rotate through the kitchen classroom recently learned about fermentation and value-added products. Besides being a classroom to hone kitchen and cooking skills, art, science, and language arts are also integrated into the coursework.


Farm-to-school is more than just about food. It is more than getting local food to schools. It is understanding the connection of where food comes from and how it is grown. It is learning about different cultures through food. It is the social and emotional learning that takes place in caring for a chicken or caring for a seedling. It is learning about our responsibility for the sustainability of the planet. Individuals working together through the partnership between Garfield Elementary and the Mollen Foundation is key to the success of the program. We learned that although everyone may have a particular role, everyone also proudly wears different hats whenever it is necessary. We learned about the importance of relationship building within communities and how collaboration helps the sustainability of programming. 

This blog is part of a series from the December 2021 Arizona immersive component of the MS in Sustainable Food Systems Program. Students toured the state, meeting with farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, government staff, and non-profit leaders.