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!
Leland & Gray Union Middle & High School and NewBrook Elementary have combined forces to hire local farmer and educator, Sam Kilmurray, to coordinate garden activities for students at both schools this spring. Modeled after similar programming in Guilford and Brattleboro, Sam will work with classroom teachers to get even more students working in the garden. She is excited to involve students in planting, maintaining, and harvesting spring crops and will coordinate with teachers to reinforce classroom concepts whenever possible. Co-owner of Amazing Planet Farm in Williamsville, VT, Sam has immense experience in farming. Having participated in the Four Winds program over the past 3 years, Sam is also an experienced outdoor educator and enjoys teaching students new and useful skills for understanding the world around them. This position is generously funded by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, Food Connects, and WRED Medicaid funding.
Reflecting on our March Garden Workshops & Celebrating National Garden Month
According to the National Gardening Association, “Every April communities, organizations, and individuals nationwide celebrate gardening during National Garden Month. Gardeners know, and research confirms, that nurturing plants is good for us: attitudes toward health and nutrition improve, kids perform better at school, and community spirit grows. Join the celebration and help to make America a greener, healthier, more livable place!”
This March, we partnered with the VT Community Garden Network (VCGN) and the Retreat Farm to host a gathering for school garden champions in southern Vermont. This workshop, called Let’s Grow Together, was a time for school teams to identify needs, connect with resources, share stories, and spend time hashing out plans for 2019 school gardens. It is also the first in a series of workshops we will be hosting for educators to come together and focus on different aspects of farm to school programming. We began the evening with a presentation by the VT Community Garden Network about Community Engagement in School Gardens. Libby Weiland, Statewide Network Coordinator for VCGN, shared examples and best practices for engaging families and community members in school gardens from across the state. Following this discussion, attendees broke out into teams to start drafting plans for spring. A few highlights include:
Green Street School’s plan to create a rooftop garden
Bellows Falls Middle School’s plan to host a garden tour and community gathering this fall
Edible Brattleboro’s intention to share sheet mulching resources with workshop participants
Renewed interest in Harvest of the Month Taste Test training for parents & teachers
Thanks to Kevin Stine, Food Connects Board Member, Master Gardener, and Master Composter for sharing his wisdom that evening. And of course, big shoutout to Ali West, Food Service Director for the Brattleboro Town Schools, for preparing a delicious feast of roasted sweet potatoes, massaged kale salad and root vegetable soup!
What will your school do to celebrate National Garden Month?
This March, the Rebel Diablos of Leland & Gray Middle & High school, competed in Vermont’s Junior Iron Chef competition in Essex Junction. The team prepared Jerked Jackfruit Tacos and came away with the Mise en Place award, meaning they demonstrated exemplary teamwork, order, and professionalism. The team was comprised of students Mykah Meizis, Teagan Powling, and Savannah Lawley and coached by health teacher, Sue Jones. According to Jones, the students “represented themselves and their school with grace, poise, and talent.” Congrats Leland & Gray!
Jr Iron Chef VT is a statewide culinary competition organized by Vermont FEED challenging teams of middle and high school students to engage in improving their own health and the health of their community by creating nutritious, local dishes to inspire school meal programs. Visit their website to learn more!