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Food and Mood Project


Food and Mood Project


SAMHSA Regions 7 and 8, in partnership with the Mountain Plains USDA FNS office, are facilitating a collaborative of state, tribal and community behavioral health, education, nutrition, food insecurity, school garden, and related experts working in the Regions.

About the Project

About the Project

About the Project

The link between consistent access to nourishing, culturally diverse food sources and children and youth emotional wellness is well documented. Despite a paucity of research on the behavioral health impacts of school gardens, anecdotal evidence from multiple sources indicates that school gardens promote social and emotional learning and may serve as a resource in mitigating the impacts of behavioral health issues in children and youth.

As part of an emphasis on emotional wellness in school settings, an examination of the impacts of access to nutritious, culturally diverse food is an important component in delivering services that support the whole individual through a health equity and strengths-based lens.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service partners with state and tribal governments to administer 15 Federal Nutrition Assistance Programs. FNS serves one in four Americans during a year, and co-develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans with the HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Contact Us

Traci Pole, M.B.A., M.S.
Region 8, Assistant Regional Director
Byron Rogers Federal Building
1961 Stout Street, 11th Floor
Denver, CO 80294
(303) 844-1205

Marissa Thomas, M.P.H.
Region 7, Behavioral Health Advisor
601 E. 12th Street, Suite S1801
Kansas City, MO 64106


Food and Mood Project Framework

The Project Framework

This framework was developed in collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Regions 7 and 8, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), Office of Regional Health Operations (ORHO) Region 8, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) Mountain Plains Region.

The Framework is intended as a guiding, unifying document, and source to support partners to:

  • Integrate work in food access/nutrition and health (to include mental health and substance use)
  • Build collaborations and partnerships
  • Unite under a shared vision and set of goals



All children, youth, and their families are nourished and thriving, with their nutritional and mental health and wellness needs prioritized and met throughout their communities.

Mission and Vision


The Food and Mood project provides leadership and resources – programs, effective interventions, information and data, funding, and personnel – to examine the relationship between nutrition security and mental and substance use disorders across the service delivery continuum to improve public health and achieve wellness.

The team will collectively identify and initiate the implementation of strategies that leverage programs such as the USDA’s Farm to School program and the CDC’s WSCC model to promote youth emotional wellness and to address behavioral health problems, including those related to food insecurity and lack of access to cultural food.

Our Goal


Promote emotional wellness and reduce the impact of mental health and substance use issues in the SAMHSA Regions 7 and 8, and USDA FNS Mountain Plains Region, K-12 population through identifying and implementing strategies that address the intersection between behavioral health and food/food insecurity/cultural food diversity/school gardens.

The Framework is a tool for orienting individuals and organizations to these shared goals:

  • Recognize the multidimensional elements to health, by taking a whole-person approach
  • Promote emotional wellness by integrating nutrition and health
  • Improve access to culturally informed and appropriate food for the creation of health and well-being, not just the absence of disease
  • Support the development and implementation of evidence-based and culturally appropriate services to reduce the impact of mental health and substance use issues in school-aged (K-12) youth

Pillars and Regions

Pillars of Food and Mood

  1. Equitable access to resources
    An increase in the amount of flexible funding to enable equitable access to nutritious, culturally appropriate foods and emotional wellness related services.
  2. Multi-disciplinary community engagement
    A change in the perspective of mental health at the community level that engages with social determinants of health (SDoH), creating employment opportunities and more effective support systems.
  3. Meaningful and holistic curriculum that is culturally informed
    The implementation of culturally-appropriate Food and Mood learning opportunities that promote food and emotional wellness. The creation of a Food and Mood toolkit that is widely distributed to increase knowledge of the link between food and emotional wellness.
  4. An inclusive, normalizing public dialogue
    A decrease in stigma behind food and emotional wellness through public education, national campaigns, and public dialogue.

Food and Mood Program Regions

SAMHSA Region 7 includes Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri.
SAMHSA Region 8 includes Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado.
USDA Mountains Plains Region includes Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.
The program region includes 38 federally recognized tribes.

Featured Resources

Food and Mood Planning Committee

Food and Mood Planning Committee

The various roles of the Planning Committee include:

  • Establishing the Food & Mood project and maintaining the parameters and scope of the project
  • Advancing and coordinating work with subcommittees
  • Facilitating Food & Mood listserv
  • Maintaining Food & Mood webpage
  • Organizing and hosting semi-annual Food and Mood Town Halls
  • Logistics coordination for three subcommittees
  • Conducting literature reviews
  • Maintaining SharePoint and contact lists
  • Scheduling meetings, taking meeting minutes, polls
  • Identifying speakers and agenda preparation

The Planning Committee members are:

The virtual collaborative includes biannual large group town hall discussions, as well as smaller subcommittees comprised of federal, tribal, state, local public and private partners.


This subcommittee will identify/develop/promote resources and strategies that address food security/equity to protect and support emotional wellness, as well as for mitigating the short and long-term impacts of food insecurity/inequity on emotional wellness/substance misuse.

Co-Chairs: Gary Henault, Director of Children’s Services, Division of Behavioral Health Services, Kansas Department of Disability and Aging Services, and, Malissa Martin, President and CEO of Communities in Schools of Mid-America

This subcommittee will identify/develop/promote resources and strategies that leverage access to and promote menus that reflect culturally diverse food/food sovereignty to protect and support emotional wellness, as well to help mitigate historical trauma and the short and long-term behavioral health impacts of lack of access to local/sustainable and culturally appropriate food.

Co-Chairs: Shannon Udy, Health Educator, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board, and Greg Donovan, Director, Society of Care

This subcommittee will identify/develop/promote resources and strategies that leverage food and gardening/farming as self-care/emotional wellness promotion, in contrast to popular culture messaging that may be associated with negative body image and associated mental illness/substance use disorders.

Co-Chairs: Rachel Jones, Acting Director of Children’s Services & Manager of Trauma Informed Treatment, Missouri Department of Mental Health - Division of Behavioral Health, and, Heather Hauswirth, Farm to Early Care & Education Program Specialist, Boulder County Public Health

Last Updated

Last Updated: 07/19/2023

Last Updated