During the last week of June, our Farm to School team had the privilege of coaching two amazing teams of educators, school nutrition professionals, and administrators from Windham County at the Northeast Farm to School Summer Institute at Shelburne Farms. We spent three days on the shores of Lake Champlain, immersed in learning about what makes a Farm to School program vibrant and robust, and working with our teams on their action plans for the coming year.
The team from Academy School in Brattleboro is a newly formed committee, and they have several goals, including:
Research what thriving Farm to School programs in nearby communities look like
Establish a vibrant Farm to School committee with broad grade level representation and strong support from school administration
Recruit at least one family member to join the committee
Increase breakfast participation by making changes to the breakfast structure
The team from Windham Northeast includes representatives from Grafton and Westminster Elementary schools who are passionate about connecting their classrooms with the incredible local food that’s now being served in cafeterias across the Supervisory Union. Their vision is to “create food experiences that nourish, inspire and educate” and some of their goals are:
To implement a VT Harvest of the Month Taste Test Program
To host a student-led Thanksgiving feast featuring local and garden produce at each school
To create and maintain school gardens, including compost collection
To begin shifting the culture around school food by educating faculty and staff about school meal and farm to school programming
To promote farm to school within their community
This June, our Farm to School team had the pleasure of working alongside Rachel Harb, of Massachusetts Farm to School, at the Northeast Farm to School Institue in Northern Vermont. Mass Farm to School, a statewide network comprised of educators, food service professionals, farmers, fisherman, and other advocates, seeks to "strengthen local farms and fisheries and promote healthy communities by increasing local food purchasing and education at schools." Like Food Connects, Massachusetts Farm to School staff offer training, technical assistance, and consulting to farm to school champions around the state, in an effort to support local food initiatives classrooms, cafeterias and communities.
Know someone who lives just over the border? Encourage them to reach out and get involved in the Massachusetts Farm to School movement to support the continued growth of a resilient Northeast economy and landscape.
Thanks to Keene State College Dietetic Intern, Carissa Brewton, we will be hosting local food taste tests at Retreat Farm on select Fridays this summer. Taste tests will happen in conjunction with the Free Summer Meals program and will include an educational component, such as books, games, or art projects. Each taste test will feature a different local food, some of which will come straight form Retreat Farm's on-site garden.
Carissa is in the last few months of her dietetic internship at Keene State College and is excited to become a Registered Dietitian very soon! A Pennsylvania native, she is a graduate of Penn State University, where she developed her interests in food systems, sustainability, and agriculture in addition to her studies in nutritional science. She enjoys cooking, reading, hiking, taking care of her potted plants, and traveling to new places.
We are excited to have Carissa on our team this summer!
Food Connects extends a warm welcome to Tara Gordon—our new summer garden program coordinator for five area schools this summer (Academy, Green Street, Oak Grove, Guilford, and Vernon). Tara is a mother of two, has a multidisciplinary background in the biological sciences, was the Garden Coordinator for Putney Central School for three years, and is now the Green Street School Garden Coordinator. Tara finds gardening to be a wonderful way to instill a sense of purpose, a practical way to grow awareness of our place in nature, a way to cultivate our curiosity and creativity as caregivers, and a way to develop a closer interrelationship with the natural world. She is looking forward to working in the gardens with students and families over the summer. She will be holding weekly garden hours, starting the week June 24, for families at each school to get involved throughout summer vacation.
Guilford: Mondays 9:30 to 11:30 am
Oak Grove: Tuesdays 9:30 to 11:30 am
Green Street School: Tuesdays 5:30 to 7:30 pm
Vernon: Wednesdays 5:30 to 7:30 pm
Academy: Thursdays 5:30 to 7:30 pm
Summer garden care is a crucial part of a healthy school garden program. Without someone tending gardens over the summer, gardens get overgrown and underwatered, making the fall harvests smaller and the overall gardening experience less pleasant for students and teachers. This is the third year that Food Connects has offered this valuable service to schools. Some schools have been able to find funds within their existing budgets to “buy-in” to this program, however not all schools have been able to find funds even though they have the need. We are grateful to Rise VT for a grant this season which allows us to expand our program and serve the communities of Guilford and Vernon.
Twin Valley Elementary School, in Wilmington, VT, will be participating in this year's School to Farm: Know Your Farmer, Know Your School pilot project—an initiative of NOFA VT. Fourth grade teacher, Marie Paige, is excited to partner with Boyd Family Farm to engage her students in four farm field trips throughout the course of the school year. Marie and farmer, DJ Boyd, will use the farm to reinforce the science curriculum next school year. The school's cafeteria will also support the project by utilizing Boyd Farm products in the school meal program as well as taste tests throughout the year.
The School to Farm team kicked off the project with a full day of professional development at Drift Farmstead in Roxbury, VT on May 31. They spent the day reflecting on what it means to teach on a farm and how to engage students in meaningful activities that reinforce classroom concepts. Stay tuned for updates as we move into next school year—thanks to USDA for funding this innovative project!
Students across Vermont rely on school meals throughout the school year for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks. But when school is out of session nearly 37,000 students lose access to these services. Luckily, programs and organizations throughout southern Vermont offer summer meals programs.
Brattleboro will host a Summer Meals Kickoff event at Retreat Farm on Friday, June 28 from noon to 4 pm. Lunch will be served from noon to 12:45 pm and will be free for kids, and adults who come with a child that day! Attendees may enjoy the farm for free until 4 pm, including the calf barn, trails and learning garden.
There are 9 Free Summer Meal sites this year, 5 of which are open to the public. You can find more details here.
Bellows Falls will host a Summer Meals Kickoff event at Bellows Falls Middle School on Monday, June 24 from 11 am to 1 pm. Kids and adults alike may eat for free that day—lunch will include homemade pizza, salad, and more! Garden Coordinator, Marylous Massucco, will be leading garden tours and giving away her boxes that day! Learn more about the event here.
A new initiative that is underway and community lead is in the Windham Central Community. They will host summer meals at the UCC church in Newfane, Vermont throughout the summer.
These events are great opportunities to learn about programs available to students throughout the entire summer. Check out this list of more summer meal sites throughout Vermont.
During April vacation, our Farm to School team went on a road trip with Brattleboro Town Food Service Director Ali West to Steiger Supply, a family-owned kitchen supply store in Rutland, VT. Ali was like a kid in a candy store, filling her cart with everything from small items like measuring cups and tongs to a commercial immersion blender for making soups and smoothies for the more than 700 students that she cooks for every day. BUHS/BAMS Food Service Director, Justin Mcardle, also made a trip to Steigers and his purchases included a 40-quart stock pot and a food processor to help him make more soups, sauces, and spreads from fresh, local fruits and vegetables.
These shopping trips were funded by a generous Community Health Rankings and Roadmaps grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, applied for in partnership with the Vermont Department of Health. The goal of this project is to foster health improvement efforts in our community. As a result of this funding, Food Connects was able to provide funds for the Brattleboro Town School District, Brattleboro Area Middle School,and Brattleboro Union High School to buy some much needed equipment to help them process more fresh, local produce.
Many thanks to our friends at the Vermont Department of Health for collaborating with us on this grant and supporting healthy, fresh, local food in our schools!