By Lindsay Arbuckle Courcelle
On a crisp November day leading up to Thanksgiving, a school bus pulled into the Shrewsbury Mountain School (SMS). This was no ordinary school bus, however. Instead of a bus driver, a farmer sat behind the wheel. Instead of seats, there were wooden shelves piled high with potatoes, turnips, and garlic.
It was the debut of The Good Food Bus, a project of The Shrewsbury Institute for Agricultural Education. The Shrewsbury Institute is a new non-profit organization with the goal of bringing together people of all ages to share agricultural knowledge and skills that will strengthen our community and region.
The Good Food Bus is just one way of doing that. From the outside, the bus still looks like your typical mode of transportation, with plans for a paint job in the spring. But step inside and it’s a different scene. Beautiful, handcrafted wooden shelves and counters line each side while two seats face a picnic style table in the front. The bus is essentially a mobile farmers market, with a set-up that allows for cooking demonstrations and, of course, eating.
For its pilot run, the bus was stocked with fresh vegetables from the school’s garden club and local farms including Caravan Gardens, Evening Song Farm, Alchemy Gardens, Tangled Roots Farm, and the farmstead of the Miller family: Greg, who designed and built the shelves and interior of the bus, and his wife Galen, a caterer who donated her amazing cooking skills to the project.
While the bus sat outside awaiting students, Galen set the stage for food samples. Roasted root vegetables, butternut squash soup, kale-bok choy salad, and apple crisp were on the menu. In small groups, the students came through the “lunch line” to receive colorful spoonfuls of veggies. The kids were full of smiles and questions and hungry bellies. Several young skeptics questioned the salad, or downright tried to refuse the squash soup. Their caring teachers encouraged them to try a bite, and almost every student complied.
Watching kids as they try new foods can be pretty fun. As soon as the flavors hit their taste buds, we witnessed a range of expressions. One boy who didn’t think he’d like any of it was taken aback, stating, “I like the salad. It surprises me!” Another said, “This is the best food I’ve ever tasted because it was grown by farmers.”
The conversations amongst students were sometimes comical, including one exchange about how “potatoes are made of french fries.” In the span of a mere fifteen minutes, salad haters turned into kale lovers and the last bits of squash soup were slurped down with contentment. It doesn’t take long to change the mind of a little one when their taste buds are being delighted by delicious, fresh food. Even Principal Fishwick announced a newfound love of kale.
After eating, each student was given a recycled grocery bag and a handout with all of the recipes. As they boarded the magic school bus, the students’ eyes grew wide. Even for adults, it is quite a sight to be seen. Afternoon sunlight poured into the bus, highlighting the bright hues of the vegetables. Purple and magenta turnips, orange carrots, and bags of greens are like nature’s crayons.
Using the recipes, students filled their bags with the ingredients necessary to make one or two of the dishes. They were able to see the butternut squash in its raw form, before being transformed into the bright orange soup that they loved. This type of connection is important since many kids, even Vermonters, never see their vegetables in the fresh-from-the-farm form. I believe this is where the “potatoes come from french fries” comment comes from; most likely, some kids see many more french fries than whole, raw potatoes.
Luckily, with school gardening programs like the club at SMS, kids are learning not only what a potato looks like but how to grow the food themselves. Many of the students surveyed had gardens at home, or had helped in the school garden. Bunches of kale and huge carrots from the garden club were options on the bus, which served as the perfect platform for sharing the school-grown veggies.
As the students exited the bus with heavy bags of root vegetables and greens, I experienced many warm fuzzy feelings that are common when you are a farmer with grateful customers. One student said, “I liked the roasted roots. I’ve got the recipe, and I’m making it tomorrow.” Another exclaimed, “It was awesome to try different foods that we hadn’t tried before!”
The trial run of The Good Food Bus was a great success, and plans are being made for future mobile market educational endeavors. Grateful students, happy farmers, and excited teachers shared in the moment, a perfect preamble to Thanksgiving and the antithesis of Black Friday. Generosity, health, and happiness abound in the world of locally grown, good food, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.
Lindsay Arbuckle Courcelle and her husband Scott own Alchemy Gardens, a farm business growing vegetables and herbs in Shrewsbury and West Rutland. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.