By Lindsay Courcelle
For the last two weeks of the school year, Rutland High School (RHS) students spread out across the community to take part in their Y.E.S. (Year End Studies) Plan. During the program, students forgo the usual academic experience and instead focus on a topic of their choosing, based on the offerings organized by the teachers. Topics range from crocheting to ‘The Beat Poets,’ two of the courses my husband Scott took back in the late nineties, to organic agriculture, which is where we come in.
This year was our second year with a group of Y.E.S. Plan students at our farm, Alchemy Gardens. Led by French teacher Liz Filskov, the group consisted of thirteen young women spanning freshman to senior year. The first day of the program, Scott went to RHS for an introduction. He walked with the students from the school to the community garden plots behind McDonald’s. We started our own farm at a community garden, so we wanted the students to understand that community gardens are an important resource for Rutland.
The students toured the community gardens and checked out the perennial herb beds that we planted last year with Y.E.S. Plan students and students from the Stafford Technical Center’s Culinary Arts program. Both beds were lush with fresh culinary and medicinal herbs, coming back year after year.
Every day for the next eight school days, the students came to our farm from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm to help with a variety of farm projects. One of the first projects was planting our outdoor cherry tomato crop. Within minutes, the two hundred tomato plants were in the ground. Many hands really do make light work! Other planting projects went equally as quickly, and included cucumbers, head lettuce, herbs, and Swiss chard (or “swish charge” as the students took to calling it).
Besides planting, the group helped with building raised beds for perennial herbs and flowers, weeding, picking rocks out of our new farm field, mulching, stringing up greenhouse tomatoes, and a variety of other tasks. One day, the whole crew helped Kris Harmelink from Homegrown Garden, a newly established vegetable farm on leased land at Boardman Hill Farm in West Rutland. Another day, the students worked with the Sirjane family from Caravan Gardens in Cuttingsville, where they helped with vegetable farm tasks as well as carrying chickens to their new pen, an experience with much excitement and many laughs.
Throughout their time with us, the students were eager to play with our dog Murphy, and he was just as eager to have thirteen new friends. Every student in the group was so kind and hard working, despite some rainy days and not-so-easy tasks. It was truly inspiring to meet and work with them. We celebrated on the last day of the program, when the group harvested a bunch of veggies and cooked lunch together in our kitchen. Then we all feasted on the meal: fresh green salad, garlic scape pesto pasta with sautéed greens, and blueberry-rhubarb crisp.
Being on new land this season and adjusting to different soil has had its challenges, but projects like this bring new energy onto the farm and remind us why we do what we do. One student returned for a second year of Y.E.S. Plan with us, which we found out is not easy. She had to make a case that she would continue to learn more about gardening in order to be enrolled in the class. She has started a home garden, and as I mentioned in a previous article, her grandmother was quite surprised at her excitement for growing food.
After the first day in the community gardens, three of the girls from the group took on their own community garden plot. We gave them a bunch of plants and some words of encouragement, and the photos of their garden look great. Most students took home some plants, and a couple more mentioned that they had started home gardens.
We just received thank you letters from the students yesterday and couldn’t be more grateful ourselves. We hope to continue this Y.E.S. Plan program for many years and want to give credit to all of the Y.E.S. Plan students who are working on projects around town: your efforts are truly appreciated!
Lindsay and her husband Scott own Alchemy Gardens, a vegetable farm selling through CSA and at the Rutland Farmers Market. Learn more at www.AlchemyGardensVT.com