By Kimberly Griffin
Movements starting with “Farm to” are all the rage right now. Maybe you’ve heard of Farm to Table, which focuses on the health and economic benefits of eating and buying fresh, local food. Or, perhaps you are familiar with Vermont Farm to Plate, a ten year strategic plan to strengthen Vermont’s food system. Some more playful abstractions include the Farm to Fork Fondo, a bike tour organized by Wrenegade Sports coming our way July 11 & 12, and Farm to Feet, a brand of 100% American made socks out of North Carolina.
Whatever your experience with the concept of “Farm to X," the conviction behind it is simple: quality foods and goods are best accessed as close to the source as possible, whether it’s watercress, watermelon, or wool.
So, how about Farm to School? At its core, Farm to School can be divided into three main elements: education, school gardens, and procurement (purchasing local food). Over the past 20 years, the national Farm to School Network has grown to include over 40,000 schools in all 50 states. Vermont’s own Farm to School Network includes over a dozen state and local partnerships, 40 schools, and 13 farms. Many regional organizations in Vermont support their schools’ efforts to incorporate Farm to School into their practices. In our region, part of my work at College of St. Joseph has been to develop Marble Valley Grows, Rutland County’s Farm to School Network.
A network, by its nature, is not a sole organization. By tapping into local and statewide resources, Marble Valley Grows has already begun to work with Rutland County schools. With each school, we start by assessing their desire and capacity to adopt Farm to School principles. We share resources and examples of successful projects around the state and then support interested schools as they take steps towards implementing their own versions.
As part of our Farm to School network, Marble Valley Grows is working with the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL). Together, we completed an initial survey of school and community gardens around the region. Marble Valley Grows works on the education and school garden parts of Farm to School, while RAFFL provides support to schools that want to purchase local food and assistance to farmers interested in selling to schools. There are many challenges that food service directors face when they try to connect with local farmers, so RAFFL is working with Vermont FEED to ease that process. Marble Valley Grows is also working with Vital Communities, Shelburne Farms, Green Mountain Farm to School, Vermont Community Garden Network, and more!
You may be thinking, schools are educational hubs, so of course Farm to School includes education. However, this education doesn’t just focus on students. Teachers, administrators, parents, school nutrition staff, and even the janitorial crew are all important participants in healthy Farm to School programs. Farm to School can also be quite broad, extending into the neighborhood or community around a school and even to the grocery stores, restaurants, and food pantries that serve those communities. Through the Farm to School network, vital relationships are formed between schools and communities and a wide range of farms, big and small. The relationships vary, as well. Students might visit farms, host farmers in their classroom, write to and receive letters from farmers, and/or assist with agriculture activities, such as gardening or food scrap processing.
In just the past six months, Marble Valley Grows has forged relationships with several local schools to support teachers, administrators, and their students with in-class curriculum enrichment, hands-on outdoor experiences, and lunchroom education and exposure. Our goal is to do so with every school in the county.
Since every school is different, with different resources and different priorities, each school’s Farm to School program is also different. Some schools may choose to have gardens on campus, while others might work closely with a nearby farm for hands-on, in-dirt learning and play. Some schools might have the capacity for students to learn cooking skills in the kitchen, while others will focus on taste tests in the cafeteria as a means to expose student to new, nutritious foods. In both cases, Farm to School programming, such as the Harvest of the Month program, offers helpful guidance for teachers and nutrition staff.
As Vermont moves towards the implementation of the Universal Recycling Law (Act 148), schools are already planning how they will sort, recycle, and compost in their cafeterias. This past spring, College of St. Joseph students visited the Rutland City Northwest and Northeast schools each week for 15 weeks to help with this sorting. All food scraps were brought back to CSJ for processing. By the end of the four months, CSJ students diverted over 4,000 pounds of food scraps from the landfill! Students from Northwest School recently came to CSJ to visit the compost pile, help in the weighing and final sorting of the scraps, and to learn about the process from pizza to soil to garden beds, back to food.
It is widely believed that we, as a nation, as a culture, as a generation, have lost our connection to what wholesome, nutritious food really looks like, where it comes from, and who produces it. It is time we reconnect to that knowledge; and Farm to [Table, Plate, Fork, Feet] School just might get us there.
Kimberly Griffin is the Farm Manager and Wellness Coordinator at College of St Joseph, working with staff, faculty, and students to eat, move, and live healthier. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org