Spring is here and at Bradford Elementary School, Farm to School coordinator Katie Cole is gearing up for another gardening season. Last year students returned to school in-person and the K-6 graders helped oversee a very successful growing season. After some learning curves the first year, this year the gardens have been more focused on growing spring and fall crops. This means lots of radishes and peas in the spring that transition to green beans, tomatoes and squash that can be harvested when students return in August. In the middle of summer student volunteers may find themselves sowing seeds for fall plantings of carrots, beets, lettuce, and spinach.
Farm to School programs bring together educators, farmers, and community members to integrate local food and farms into the classrooms, cafeterias, and communities of our region. What does this look like in action?
- Last year Bradford grew about 500 pounds of vegetables to use on the school cafeteria menu.
- In the classroom kindergarteners measure the growth of scarlet runner beans, second graders work with pumpkins in a decomposition unit, and fifth graders take soil samples to send to UVM Extension for testing.
- Out in the community the school is working with the Bradford Resiliency Committee to plant apple trees on the playground and school.
Another component of Farm to School is purchasing from local farms. Last year Bradford purchased 4,500 pounds of 25 different farm products from 10 farms in the area. The list included beef, apples, yogurt, butternut squash and maple syrup. Their goal is to get two local items on the menu per week.
This can be a challenge as foods don’t come prepped and individually packaged from local farms. The extra labor required to peel and portion carrots, for example, can be a barrier to adoption by school lunch staff. To help alleviate this, students get involved in food preparation. They not only learn hands-on skills but kids’ involvement in food preparation improves the likelihood that they will try what they are making. Some notable meals made with students include beet hummus with local carrot dippers, butternut squash soup, and black bean and corn salad.
The success of the Bradford Elementary Farm to School program is thanks to the enthusiasm of the teachers and students, and Katie’s hard work.
Vital Communities manages the Upper Valley Farm to School Network and offers support and resources for educators doing Farm to School in our region. This has included coaching Katie Cole and other Upper Valley educators who attend the year-long New England Farm to School Institute at Shelburne Farms.