Vital Communities’ Upper Valley Farm To School Network has funded six projects at area schools and early childhood education centers that will bring kids closer to the process of growing and enjoying wholesome food.
Funded by the Wellborn Ecology Fund, these grants help schools, early childhood, afterschool programs, or school-related wellness programs launch projects related to farms, our agricultural heritage, farm products, food production, or local food consumption at the school itself. The maximum mini-grant award is $700.
Here are the schools’ descriptions of their projects!
Creative Spirit Children’s Center, West Fairlee, VT – “Harvest Haven”: Harvest Haven will allow 10 preschoolers to visit our local farm four times throughout the year to learn about different harvests. The entire center will enjoy weekly snack from a second local farm stand and learn about the growing process and what it took to grow their snack.
Maple Leaf Children’s Center, Thetford, VT – “Garden Getaways”: Maple Leaf will visit our local farm Cedar Circle in East Thetford to take part in the four different field trips that are offered. Eighteen preschoolers and toddlers will learn about fall harvest, pumpkin science, seeds, pollinators, and the growth seasons in our region.
Sharon (VT) Elementary School – Super Compost supplies: Sharon Elementary School (SES) has been composting most of our food waste for three years using an undersized but well-managed compost bin system. We are so excited that SES is the first of 24 Upper Valley schools participating in the Super Compost Project to receive their new structure and right-sized three-bin hot composting system, paid for by a Vermont Farm to School Vision Grant. The grant award covered the capital costs for the ground surface, materials, and labor to build the 16 x 20′ pavilion, and bins, which also serve as an outdoor classroom. We are eager to begin using the new facility as soon as we can get all the proper tools in place for the students to manage the compost efficiently. Proper tools will enable the students to collect data on the compost activity that will support their classroom studies in math, science, and literacy – year-round! The supplies needed for each school include barrels and buckets, shovels and forks, scale, thermometers, compost covers, wheelbarrows, wagon and sled, iPad, and a whiteboard. This grant will help to subsidize those priority tools costs,
Randolph (VT) Elementary School – Growing Healthy Connects: The Randolph Elementary PK/ early childhood program aims to connect teachers, students, and families to healthy eating education. With the rising health crisis in diabetes, obesity, and malnutrition, teachers have noticed the need for healthier food access. RES believes that education and food connection is the gateway to cultivating positive choices for their students and families. The teachers plan to build curriculum around healthy foods, My Plate, and healthy snacks. The curriculum will include school-day cooking as well as family cooking classes. This project will help build a PK garden that will bring not only joy and wonder to the students but a sense of community and connection and agency to growing food that they can grow, cook, and taste. The new school garden would also act as a family garden where students can join their caregivers in experiencing homegrown foods as well as enjoy the harvest in the class and at home.
Once the school has new gardens built, the school will look for additional funds to purchase additional ingredients (outside of the garden harvest) to cook with our students it will be easy to continue to support learning about growing and taking care of what we are growing since the main thing we’ll need to include in our future budgets are just the seeds. We anticipate using the gardens and tools each year over and over. Each of our preschool outdoor play areas is fully fenced in and is only used by the preschoolers so we already have plans in place to take care of our outdoor areas where the new gardens would be located. We also already operate monthly educational family special activity so beginning to include learning about healthy cooking and eating can be included easily during the school year. We really love the idea of offering our families a harvest event and we have never implemented that type of event before with our preschool families. Learning how to do this type of event along with how to cook with families during the grant year will facilitate this in future years.
Green Mountain Children’s Center, Claremont – Eating Local: Our project will focus on eating local foods. We will shop at local farms or farm stands to buy local produce or dairy. We will buy foods that are in season and introduce foods such as strawberries, zucchini, or pumpkin in a variety of ways. Our menus will include these targeted foods for one to two week periods of time to allow children opportunities to try the foods in a variety of ways. The administrative staff will plan the menus, curriculum, and activities for the classroom teachers to implement to supplement their regular curriculum. We will support classroom staff by providing them with support staff to help in the classroom while activities, taste tests and curriculum are implemented. Curriculum will include preparing and cooking food; reading books and doing activities related to the targeted food, gardening, farming, etc. The goals for the project are: to introduce children to new foods; to support local businesses; to learn about where food comes from; and to have fresh, local, in season foods. We plan to do this project from June through September (16 weeks). We are requesting $700 for the project. If we are to receive the full amount of $700, this would allow us to spend $40-50 per week on the targeted foods.
White River Valley Elementary School, South Royalton – Tea & Sensory Garden: The School Garden at the Royalton Campus of White River Valley Elementary School has fallen into disrepair. The garden beds have not been planted in several years and many of them are falling apart. Tiffany Bates, a new third grade teacher at the school, arrived in late summer of 2023 and saw an opportunity. She planted as much as she could in the hopes that some things would grow and provide learning (and eating!) opportunities for her students. By fall, she had cultivated more than potatoes and sunflowers. As Bates’s students harvested mint and other herbs for a mindfulness tea blend, many of her fellow teachers looked on with interest and inspiration. In 2024, Mrs. Bates would like like to create a Tea and Sensory Garden for teachers and students across the school to use. She is enrolled in a course at Castleton, and ready to take action to make her vision a reality. The addition of a Farm to School Coordinator to the school means there is additional capacity to support the interest from less “garden-confident” teachers and staff to incorporate gardening activities into the curriculum and school culture. Further, the district is actively seeking resources to support the development of a comprehensive Farm to School program that students from PreK through 12 will experience throughout their education at White River Valley district schools. Rebuilding the elementary school garden is the first, tangible step in this process.