Green Street School Garden Coordinator, Tara Gordon, spent her summer working for Food Connects to care for school gardens at 5 area elementary schools in the towns of Brattleboro, Guilford, and Vernon. This summer garden program was made possible in part thanks to a grant from Rise Vermont. Here are a few highlights from Tara’s summer in the gardens:
Teachers from Academy School met with Tara in the spring to orient her to the garden and show her some of the crops they were growing. This included popcorn seedlings donated by Wild Carrot Farm that needed to be hand-pollinated. Throughout the summer, Tara connected with families on the playground while she was working in the garden. School staff helped with watering and harvesting. Funding for school gardens and the supplies needed can be difficult, but Tara reached out to the Brattleboro community and they did not disappoint. She was able to get a bale of straw donated for mulching, needed to combat the weeds and help the garden flourish. Teachers and students are looking forward to harvesting from their beautifully tended garden this fall!
Green Street School had families and neighbors who helped in the garden throughout the summer. The harvest was bountiful over the summer and extra produce was shared with school staff and neighbors. Tara was able to process and save some produce for school year classroom activities as well. Green Street has an ongoing relationship with Yalla Vermont growing and harvesting cilantro, parsley, and calendula for the Yalla kitchen. Because of Tara’s and the Green Street School community’s work this project continued throughout the summer. Tara also tended heirloom peas as part of a project in collaboration with the Brattleboro Words Project. These peas are an early variety which was grown in Brattleboro in the late 1700’s, and seeds from this year’s harvest will be available next year through a seed saving project in collaboration with Brooks Memorial Library!
Guilford Central School has well-established gardens and a great core group of active families who came to the garden throughout the summer to garden and harvest with Tara. Surplus produce from the school garden was brought to the Guilford General Store a couple of times and the school garden was highlighted on the General Store’s menu! Guilford Central School’s Farm to School Coordinator, Sarah Rosow, was a great partner for Tara, with many garden systems already in place, including a well organized tool shed and a clear plan for summer planting. In addition to her work in the garden, Tara was also able to process some calendula and basil for Sarah to use this fall with her students.
Oak Grove School invited Tara to work in the garden with some classes in the spring to seed and plant, and learn about weeds. The Brattleboro Town School District summer school was based at Oak Grove this year, which allowed Tara to work with students and teachers regularly in the summer. Neighbors also showed support for the garden—in particular, a nice neighbor just across the street donated a bale of hay for mulch. The bulk of the food grown in Oak Grove’s garden will be harvested by students this fall and each class will cook a dish for the annual harvest dinner in October.
At Vernon Elementary School, the river bed soil is very rich and the plants flourished. The primary goal for the garden in Vernon this year was to provide families a space to grow and harvest over the summer, and crops were planted with summer harvesting in mind. Several families worked with Tara throughout the summer, and extra produce was brought to the Vernon pool to share with the community. Next year, this group hopes to have a Vernon School Garden Booth at their 4th of July town festival.
Community building was an essential of Tara’s work this summer. Tara created Facebook groups for each school garden as a tool to reach parents during the summer, and she made colorful flyers to spread the word about her weekly school garden parties. She also made connections with Edible Brattleboro, a local college student, and several high school students who used community service hours to help her tend these gardens. Many hands made the work a little lighter!
It was incredibly helpful to the schools to have someone care for their gardens and build community in the gardens over the summer, and Food Connects is pleased that we were able to offer this program for the third year in a row. Many thanks to Tara for her hard work tending gardens and building summer garden communities at each school, and a big thank you to Rise Vermont for helping to fund this important and valuable work!
Photos By: Tara Gordon
Foodworks, the Groundworks-run community resource in Brattleboro, has increased its storage capacity while also transforming the shopping experience at their new Canal Street location where shoppers are invited to pick up the food they need for free. We had the opportunity to visit the location last month to participate in a trauma and food focused community of practice with a group of Groundworks staff. The group was formed as a result of the Food and Trauma Training Food Connects put on last spring, in collaboration with Equity Solutions, and their takeaways from the training are present throughout the new community resource.
Upon arriving that morning, we stepped into the waiting room. Natural light streamed through the floor-to-ceiling windows, creating an inviting space for shoppers to hang out until it’s their turn. After checking in at the reception desk, shoppers can grab a cart or basket and walk the isles of food. Clear signage guides shoppers throughout the experience and indicates which items are limited, making it easy for first-time shoppers to feel right at home.
Shortly after we arrived, Ava, the Foodworks assistant, pulled around back with a delivery of frozen meats, fresh produce, and cakes. We were happy to lend a hand unloading the truck while we learned more about the decisions that went into creating a sensitive and welcoming space. Food placement is one area where some changes accompanied the move. While the desserts used to be located at the entrance, which are limited to one per household per month, weekly fresh produce now greet shoppers entering the store—items that are available to everyone and a healthy staple. “We tried to organize the space so that weekly items are the most easily accessible and monthly items are somewhat hidden,” Christine, the Foodworks coordinator, said. “Now, weekly shoppers don't have to feel bad walking past items they can't access.”
The registration process was streamlined and it’s now easy to get in and get the food community members need. A staff member is always at the registration desk, ensuring that shoppers can count on a familiar face to greet them when they enter. “Changing [registration] from a volunteer role to a staff-only role is one of the biggest changes we made in an attempt to be more trauma-informed.” Christine said, “Having this be a staff-only role has allowed much more consistency, familiarity, and comfort for patrons.” At check-out, another staff member or volunteer helps shoppers bag their food and answer any questions they may have.
It's these little changes that the Foodworks staff have found make a big difference when welcoming the community. Being upfront about expectations at registration and explaining the rationale behind the rules has led to a common understanding. Altering their hours so that donation pick-ups could be finished by the time Foodworks opens means that shoppers can rely on a more consistent experience and food selection each time they visit.
Overall, Christine has received mainly positive feedback. Shoppers have credited the waiting room, improved lighting, improved parking, and increased space as big improvements that have led to an experience more akin to your typical grocery store.
Along with comfy chairs and a little library, the waiting room has space for food demos and tastings. Foodworks is looking for volunteers to put on demos highlighting the produce available on the shelves and also be a source of knowledge for shoppers looking for cooking advice. Christine also noted that food donations are low this time of year and welcomes shelf stable items as well as garden produce.
You don’t need to be experiencing homelessness to shop at Foodworks. Swing by during their open hours and talk to a staff member to learn more about how you can access this community resource. Foodworks is proud to serve the entire community and understands that sometimes folks need a lot of food assistance, and sometimes shoppers just need help with items like produce and bread which are often prohibitively expensive at the grocery store. With all these changes, their goal has been to eliminate stigma about accessing Foodworks.
Foodworks is located at 141 Canal Street and can be reached by phone at (802) 490-2412.
Their hours are:
Tuesday Seniors 12-2, Everyone 2-4
Last Saturday of each month 9-12
In late August, Food Connects hosted a Trauma and Nutrition training for 31 Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) wellness leaders, including school nurses, counselors, behavior specialists, and food service directors. This training, funded by a grant from the Thompson Trust, educated wellness leaders on the connection between trauma and nutrition with the expectation that participants bring the information back to their school communities.
Professional development for schools focused on trauma and resilience is increasing. Schools that are more trauma-sensitive increase the chances of all students to succeed. On the heels of WSESD’s trauma-informed training for educators earlier this summer, Food Connects hosted their training specifically for school wellness leaders. Food and trauma are uniquely intertwined—food traditions can establish a strong sense of community but food can also be a point of stress and anxiety, especially in a loud and overwhelming cafeteria environment, and for students experiencing food insecurity at home. A central question participants were asked to consider when making choices about how students interact with food was “how do we raise awareness about food and trauma and how do we understand how our actions impact others so that we aren’t unintentionally creating stress for our students?”
Joelle van Lent, a licensed psychologist, and Sheila Humphreys, Food Connects Farm to School Coordinator, led the training. The group of school professionals listened with eager ears to their words—learning the foundations of trauma and how to create trauma-sensitive environments. The group took time to consider their implicit biases around food by recording their initial reactions to images food like salads, Cheetos, and chocolate cake. This activity dug into how being trauma sensitive includes being neutral and curious as opposed to judgemental. “I think this was the most impactful part of the day,” said Ali West, Food Service Director for the Brattleboro Town Schools. “It was insightful to see that while I thought YUCK at the boxed macaroni and cheese others felt nostalgic towards it. It reminded me of what one third grader said to me when he asked for ketchup for his toast and I went YUCK, and his response was ‘Don't yuck my yum.’ This has become a mantra of mine whenever I work in one of my cafeterias.”
Another focal point was to exemplify that we, as adults, make assumptions about how students view school food based on our personal experience. The group read aloud quotations from Vermont students about their cafeteria experiences—“No snacks at home equals no snacks at school. I just pretended I didn’t want one.” “It is noticeable that I receive free lunch.” “Too many people crammed in one place. I will probably just not eat.” It is clear that cafeteria spaces are not always safe spaces for all students. “Kids might not know if food will be present at home. This creates a traumatic association with food that can carry over to the cafeteria,” says Joelle. “The question becomes, how can we make getting food easy, calm, and predictable for all students?”
As part of the training, school wellness leaders were asked to create action plans for the school year focused on improving school meals and farm and food education through a trauma sensitive lens. Goals created by wellness teams included:
Train all school staff on the material presented
Change school culture regarding the use of food as a reward
Increase staff awareness about implicit bias regarding foods students eat at home
Teach social skills during lunch
Decrease the chaos at lunchtime
Have staff sit with students at lunchtime in the cafeteria
Food Connects will provide ongoing coaching and support to wellness teams throughout the school year to make progress on these goals, which will help to create a healthy school food culture for all students in WSESD schools. By strengthening the school community and making school meals feel calm, predictable, and a place for positive connections with peers and staff, schools can play an important role in preventing the development of eating disorders and lifelong struggles with food for our students. Co-facilitator Sheila Humphreys says, “I am looking forward to coaching wellness leaders as they work together to create strong school communities to support our most vulnerable students, because research shows that children can withstand a considerable amount of adversity when they are connected to a strong community and have predictable calm routines.”
This training was immensely impactful. In the training pre-assessment 65% of the participants reported that they had an understanding of the connection between trauma and nutrition but no participants felt that their knowledge was strong enough to teach the material to others. “I really took so much away from the training,” said West, “at first I was completely overwhelmed and thought ‘what on earth am I doing here. This is all behavior stuff not food and then it all clicked and I realized yup, glad I'm here.’” In the post assessment, there was a 70% increase in the number of participants who felt like they could train others on the material. The ability to bring this information back to schools to share with their colleagues empowers wellness leaders to critically look at their programs and enact change.
“My experience with the Trauma and Nutrition Training was very useful,” said Jody Mattulke, Family Engagement & Education Coordinator at Academy School. “Trauma and the infinite connections and associations with food fostered greater awareness of how students may struggle. Students may struggle with memories stimulated by olfactory senses, have strong emotions evoked by inconsistencies in quality and availability of food and lack the skills to navigate these emotions as well as have difficulty with social settings and the systems around food in the schools. The module on resiliency was invaluable—relationships are the great protective factors to support students as they improve their confidence & competency to feel they belong in the community.”
In the words of participant Matt Bristol, Physical Education Teacher and Athletic Director for the Putney Central School, "My big takeaway was learning suggested practices and policies to put in place school wide to ensure food security and a positive culture around food.” Schools are uniquely positioned to improve and change students’ experiences with food. Taking these skills back to the schools is essential for creating trauma-sensitive spaces. Students need a place where curiosity and acceptance are the standard, leaving judgement at the door.
In other words, “Don’t yuck my yum.”
If you visit the Leland & Gray Union Middle & High School cafeteria this fall, you might notice a new back to school style.
This summer when the kids went on break their Seed2Tray team went to work. Food Service Director, Chris Parker, wanted to create a fun space for the school community to enjoy their meals for the 2019-2020 school year. First, they gave their kitchens a deep cleaning, and lots of coats of paint. Then turned their focus to the Leland & Gray cafeteria.
“The cafeteria had spent years looking grey and dull, so we recruited the art teacher, Suzanne Paugh from Newbrook Elementary,” says Chris. “She had been the leader on our makeover at Newbrook last year, and I knew I needed her for this project.” Suzanne worked with the incoming 5th and 6th graders to achieve an industrial/graffiti art feel—and the kids were very excited to be a part of such a large project that would impact their school. They created the signs for each station, then painted them before Chef Chris took them back to his woodshop for the finishing touches.
The Seed2Tray team worked hard throughout the school year to get to this point. They applied for a mini grant through Food Connects for a new salad bar, generously donated by Entera Catering. The receipt of the salad bar allows the team to provide a wider variety of options for students to make delicious salads. Chris also worked hard to ensure that Universal Meals were added to the budget for the 2019-2020 school year for the entire school district.
Now school is here, the time they all worked so hard to prepare for. “We are excited to see our students and show them their new cafeteria. They are now welcomed by a new hot line, a new salad bar, a pizza bar, and a sandwich bar complete with panini press. The best part is that every student in Jamaica Village, Townshend, Leland & Gray, and Newbrook will ALL EAT FOR FREE.”
Thanks to the entire Seed2Tray team for their hard work to make schools meals welcoming and delicious. Be sure to follow them on Instagram at Seed2Tray.
Food Connects is pleased to welcome Conor Floyd to our team as our new Farm to School Program Manager. A Brattleboro resident, Conor comes to Food Connects with a strong background in program development and project-based learning. Conor is very interested in the collaborative work Food Connects is doing throughout the area and is excited to be able to connect with school professionals all over Southeastern Vermont.
Conor feels that Farm to School work is a holistic way to foster stronger connections within the school and the larger community. “It positively impacts every facet of school life through a common thread. Oftentimes Farm to School programming is most beneficial to those students who struggle or are most in need; whether that is in the classroom or community through hands-on activities or creating healthier and more accessible food options for food-insecure students.” Conor aims to make Farm to School accessible to all.
Conor has a wide variety of volunteer and working aboard experience as well, including teaching aboard in Andorra. We are excited for these experiences to inform our work at Food Connects. “What I’ve learned most from my Restorative Justice work and abroad experiences is the diversity of perspectives and experiences that exist. Whether that’s in relation to people's traditions around food, their lifestyle choices, or how they approach novel problems. These experiences have helped open my mind to different ways of living, working, and collaborating.”
Now to the fun stuff: When not at Food Connects, Conor likes to read, go to coffee shops, and read in said coffee shops and has a heart for the outdoors, especially hiking. If it were habitable, he’d like to live on Jupiter, just to see what life on a gaseous planet was life. His favorite foods are BBQ, but loves to make pad-thai at home. And, in true Farm to School fashion, he wanted to be a teacher when he was little.
Please join us in welcoming Conor to our team!
Written by Laura Carbonneau, Food Connects Communications and Development Manager
We all have stories that connect us with food. They could be cooking with family members, meals with friends, or perhaps growing your own food. In my work at Food Connects it is my job to tell the stories of local farmers, food producers, our customers dedicated to local food, and schools committed to Farm to School programming.
Telling the stories of these impactful organizations comes easy. The more I write and share, the more reflective I become about my own food story and connections to agriculture. I have been acutely involved in food systems since 2008—before I had even graduated from college. My passions have always included food and agriculture and the influences of it on my life have been profound. It would be easy for me to tell you a beautifully painted picture of my work in food systems, the places I have traveled to so I could study food and food systems, or my personal endeavors in growing and producing my own food. But I have a deeper, more historical connection to agriculture that I would be remiss if I did not share it with you.
My family has old American blood. My family lineage, through my maternal grandmother, can be traced back to the Pilgrims from England. I am related to the Alden, Cooke, Soule, Mullins, Warren, and Rogers families who came over on the Mayflower, as well as numerous other individuals who came on the Fortune, Elizabeth and Ann, and subsequent voyages.
So… what does that have to do with food and agriculture now?
As an individual who is passionate about food justice, I carry with me immense historical guilt. The first English settlers in New England had enormous ecological, social, and agricultural impacts on the land and indigenous people. Those who settled in the Plymouth Colony and those who followed and spread across New England changed the face of the landscape and how the Wampanoag and other indigenous peoples lived.
It is commonly known that the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower were ill-equipped for settling in a new land. Based on the inaccuracies of maps at the time, they believed that where the ship would land was a much warmer climate than their homes in England. They landed just before the cold of a New England winter hit and many did not survive the first winter. To survive, many Pilgrims raided Wampanoag food stores and graves, which also stored food. This act of survival was an early example of a supremacist, colonist mentality—there was no thought of respect for the traditions of the Wampanoags, only the focus on self-preservation.
That first spring the Pilgrims relied on the knowledge Tisquantum (more commonly known as Squanto) to teach them how to better use the natural resources at their disposal. Tisquantum aided them in trade between the various leaders of the Wampanoag Confederation. The first ship of European settlers worked with Tisquantum and others but as more and more ships arrived it was easier to ignore the treaties made with different tribes. And as the settlers brought over more guns and disease, they found themselves increasingly in a position of power—both causing the deaths of so many indigenous people.
A striking difference between the two cultures was their way of obtaining food. The Wampanoag tribes knew how to work in harmony with the seasons and had an intimate knowledge of the habits and ecology of the different species of the region. They were flexible, nimble, and mobile in their relationships with food and nature. The European settlers did not understand or respect these traditions and practices. They brought something over that was just as destructive to the land as the disease was to the Wampanoag—agriculture and animal husbandry. This is starkly different than the hunter-gather society that existed. Royal charters from England drew boundaries that had no thought for the claims of the existing inhabitants and focused on the “improvement” of the land. The land was turned over, forests were destroyed, foreign foods and pests were introduced, and overhunting and overfishing occurred.
My family, who came over on the Mayflower, may have had the best intentions—they were looking for a home for their families away from religious persecution. But in doing so they created a chain reaction that changed the face of the landscape. The “us versus them” mentality inherent in their interactions with the Wampanoag people created a deep-seated feeling of superiority that paved the way for ideas like Manifest Destiny and that taking advantage of people who are “lesser” was not only okay but encouraged.
Fast forward about 170 years to meet my distant relative, Eli Whitney. He and I share a common ancestor, John Whitney Sr., who is my 10th great-grandfather and Eli’s 4th great-grandfather. Eli Whitney was an inventor and in his travels to the South, he worked with a benefactor, Phineas Miller, to create the cotton gin. Miller had come to Whitney, on behalf of his colleagues, to find a solution to improve the process of separating the cotton lint from the seeds. Because of the long processing time, growing cotton was unprofitable in America and there was still a reliance on the import of cotton.
The cotton gin dramatically changed the agricultural economy of the South. Human processing of cotton could produce about one pound of cotton per day, but with the use of the cotton gin, that number increased 50 fold. Between the high demand for cotton, in English and New England textile industries, and the new ease with which cotton could be processed, growing cotton became much more appealing. The economy in the South grew, but not everyone benefited. The labor force of the South, African slaves, suffered the deepest wounds with the advent of this new technology. Slavery had started to become “unprofitable” and the cotton gin revived a dying market. The cotton gin replaced the labor necessary to process cotton, but not to grow and harvest it—slavery and cotton would be intertwined until slavery’s abolition, whether that was the intent of the gin or not.
Now, roughly 225 years later, here I am. And how do I resolve this historical guilt that lives inside me? As part of their survival and means of living, my ancestors changed the face of agriculture in America at the expense of Wampanoag and African people. My conflict comes from wanting to be immersed and proud of my family’s history because without them myself and many others would not be here, while at the same time I know that the pain they caused is still being felt by the descendants of those who were taken advantage of. And perhaps that is why I am pulled towards food justice and improving our food system for all. Writing about these stories has been painful and joyful at the same time and has ignited a passion in me to learn more about my family’s story with agriculture that goes beyond our beginnings in America. My hope is that my descendants can look back at my food history and be proud.
Dietetic Intern. New Hampshire resident. Pennsylvania native. Penn State alumna. Future dietitian. Food lover. Travel enthusiast. Experimenter in the kitchen. Appreciator of fresh, local, flavorful food. Avid reader.
I’m Carissa, and these are a few things about me. For the past year, I’ve been living in New Hampshire, completing my dietetic internship in order to become a registered dietitian. Keene State College’s dietetic internship is community-focused and very individualized, allowing me the opportunity to create my own projects with Food Connects this summer. With inspiration from some amazing resources like VT Harvest of the Month, I developed a series of sensory activities and taste tests to conduct during service of summer meals at Retreat Farm on some Fridays.
These activities highlight fresh, in-season produce and herbs grown at Retreat Farm, with the goal of increasing kids’ exposure to, interest in, and preference for fresh fruits and vegetables. Taste tests give kids the opportunity to try a new food without the commitment of eating a full meal. Sensory activities give kids the chance to interact with new foods using all of their senses other than taste, such as touch, sight, and smell. It can take a while for a child to become comfortable with a new food and eventually enjoy eating it, so it is my hope that these activities help kids grow an appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables! To experience it for yourself, bring your kiddos to Retreat Farm for a free lunch at 12 pm on Friday August 9 and 16.
Growing up in Lancaster County, PA, there was never a shortage of fresh produce during the summer. When I went to college and started learning about the many social injustices in our society and the many issues in our current food system, my passion for providing equitable access to healthy food and nutrition education emerged. I originally started studying nutrition out of personal interest in and love for food, but now my eyes were opened to the role I could play in building a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable food system as a dietitian. I don’t know what my career will look like or the exact jobs I’ll have, but my year in this internship has shown me that this work can be done many different ways. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with Food Connects, learn from its work in food distribution, access and education, and support its mission. I can’t wait to see how it and organizations with similar goals and values around the world change our food system for the better.