Oak Grove School's Pumpkin Harvest

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Galen Kemp’s 2nd grade class at Oak Grove School in Brattleboro, VT recently harvested a bumper crop of pumpkins and butternut squash. This was a great victory for the school garden. Since the garden’s beginnings over 10 years ago, various classrooms have attempted to grow pumpkins and winter squash, and the results have been disappointing. Very small and very few pumpkins growing in the fall would repeatedly disappear from the garden just before classes were ready to harvest them.

This year, the plants were heavy with fruit and no one interfered with the harvest. One of the reasons for a successful squash harvest this year was that these plants were started inside by Erek Tuma’s 4th grade class last spring utilizing their classroom grow cart with seeds donated by the Vermont Community Garden Network. The seedlings were planted in early June by Ms. Kemp’s 2nd graders with support from Food Connects summer garden intern Celia Feal-Staub and tended all summer by Celia and volunteer Oak Grove families.

The fall harvest began with a lesson in the classroom to teach students how to determine when a pumpkin is ready for harvesting. They learned to assess the coloring, the hardness of the rind, and the sound when knocking on the outside of the pumpkin to make sure it was ready to pick. They learned to leave a 3-4 inch stem on each pumpkin to allow the fruit to keep longer, and they learned about curing them in the sun for about a week before storing them in a cool, dry place until they are ready to be used.  

Then, students proceeded to the garden for the harvest. The class was divided into 2 groups of approximately 10 students. Each group took time walking around the garden, identifying a variety of garden plants, locating the pumpkins and squash, counting the total before harvesting, and using their math and problem solving skills to determine a fair process so that each group would harvest a similar number and each child could be part of the harvest. Then came the big moment—the harvest! With adult help, stems were cut and children happily carried pumpkins back into the school and placed them in a sunny window to cure.

The pumpkins and squash are currently in cold storage at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, and they will be turned into a mashed squash side dish for Oak Grove’s harvest dinner later this month. The squash cooking lesson will be led by the Co-op’s dynamic nutrition educator, Lizi Rosenberg. This is Farm to School at it’s best, kids involved in hands-on learning in the garden and in the classroom, sharing the fruits of their labor with the larger community!

Windham County Farm to School Celebration was a Success!

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Our Farm to School Celebration on October 11 was a success! Thanks to all the Farm to School champions from the area who joined us. We had 25 attendees representing food service, education, and administration from schools across the county. Our participants enjoyed an evening of inspiring stories, networking, and delicious food in a beautiful setting! Thanks to the Retreat Farm for allowing us to hold the event in their gorgeous space and to Tito’s Taqueria for catering a tasty taco bar featuring local produce donated by Harlow Farm. And finally, thank you to our sponsor, the Farm to School Network, for allowing us to host this wonderful event.

We learned so much great information from our speakers! Ali West, food service director for the Brattleboro Town Schools, shared her passion for making sure all children are well nourished and that no student is stigmatized due to his or her family’s socio-economic status. She highlighted her successes with universal meals, share coolers, and Breakfast After the Bell programs in the Brattleboro Town Schools. Shane Rogers, Project Manager for Rooted in Vermont, talked about his efforts to bring the local food movement to more Vermonters by focusing on traditions in Vermont families that go back for generations, like hunting, fishing, foraging, and gardening and through his use of social media to highlight average Vermonters and his use of the #rootedinvermont hashtag. Wayne Kermenski, and Jeanne Bruffee inspired us by telling the story of Hawlemont Regional Elementary School in Charlemont, MA, which, when faced by the challenge of declining enrollment, reinvented itself as a project-based learning institution with a focus on agriculture. Students have risen to the occasion, learning the value of hard work through participation in regular chores, producing their own vegetables and value added products like homemade salsa which are sold at a weekly farmer’s market at the school, and as a result behavior problems have decreased, test scores have improved, and the school has doubled in size since the program began.

In the words of some of our participants:

“All of it was wonderful really, seeing the farm, meeting people and networking and learning about all of the wonderful programs in the works!”

“It was really great to hear about what is happening locally with Farm to School.”

“I really enjoyed hearing from Wayne and Jeanne - what an inspiring story!”

If you missed it this time, no worries! We plan to do more gatherings like this in the near future. Stay tuned!

Windham County Farm to School Celebration

Join Food Connects, in partnership with the Vermont Farm to School Network, in celebrating Farm to School efforts across Windham County! 

Taste some delicious tacos by Tito's Taquerianetwork and discuss ideas with fellow farm to school advocates, and learn more about what's happening in Windham County this year.


Have questions? Contact Kate at 802-451-0510 or kate@foodconnects.org.

*Professional development certificates will be available for all participants.

Windham County schools have a fruitful fall, freezing 350 lbs of local berries for the school year

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October is Farm-to-School month and that means school kitchens are filled with… berries! Food service providers at Academy School and Brattleboro Union High School are hard at work freezing over 350 lbs of berries so their students can snack on local fruits all winter long."The town of Brattleboro and Fresh Picks Café strive to make delicious, local healthy food available to all our students. By purchasing local berries we are not only providing our students with nutritionally superior produce but also supporting our local community and farmers. Our students love our fruit and yogurt parfaits and introducing homemade muffins using frozen local berries has been a huge hit. Freezing berries is the easiest way to preserve the fresh taste and nutrition in local produce. For us, buying local is a win-win option and we at Fresh Picks Café are committed to buying local whenever we can!" explains Ali West, Food Service Director at Academy School. These schools, along with 27 others, are regular buyers of local food through the Food Connects Food Hub, an aggregation and distribution food hub serving Southern Vermont and New Hampshire. The food hub currently works with over 45 producers and 100 wholesale buyers, delivering local products to the region four days a week.

Berries are just one of the many local products regularly delivered to school cafeterias on the Food Connects refrigerated truck. Others items include apples, yogurt, pudding, lettuce and potatoes. The food hub provides convenient access to local products, supporting schools as they work to increase their local food purchasing, a statewide goal put forward by Farm to Plate in Vermont’s food system plan. Food Connects, the nonprofit behind the food hub, is a part of the Farm to Plate Network - a coalition of over 350 farms, food production businesses, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, capital providers and government - working to make this goal a reality.

Food Connects encourages areas schools to purchase at least 10% of their annual food budget from local producers.They make it simple for schools and institutions to purchase source-identified local food through their food hub, and further guide efforts through their innovative programming. Their Farm to School Program provides schools educational support through the Harvest of the Month and Try-A-Bite curricula, while also offering equipment and professional development to food service providers so they are equipped to work with seasonal, local foods.

Thanks to the support from community members and schools across the county, area schools are succeeding in rapidly increasing their local food purchases. This September, school purchases through the Food Connects Food Hub more than doubled from September 2016. The impact of increased local purchasing can be seen in the fact that Food Connects Food Hub sales have just surpassed $1.5 million. This means more money remains in the local economy, returning to area producers.

Food Connects and its partners are committed to increasing local purchasing one berry at a time - supporting area producers and feeding Vermont’s children nutritious food in the process.