2015-06-23 / Local

Farm-to-School program integrated into Unity Elementary

By NANCY A. CAVANAUGH

Grade seven students Robbie Woodhams, Kaitlin Cox, Samantha Hagar, Matt  Bliss, and Lucien Wright, with math and science teacher Carol Foley and  paraprofessional Richard Taylor, construct the butterfly-shaped  pollinator garden in front of the school. Foley's class developed  the garden design and staked out the dimensions in math class.Grade seven students Robbie Woodhams, Kaitlin Cox, Samantha Hagar, Matt Bliss, and Lucien Wright, with math and science teacher Carol Foley and paraprofessional Richard Taylor, construct the butterfly-shaped pollinator garden in front of the school. Foley's class developed the garden design and staked out the dimensions in math class.While construction on the Unity Elementary School was being completed, Jennifer Thompson, a language arts and social studies teacher for sixth to eighth grade, and Chip Baldwin, school principal, took steps to start a that would allow students to learn about where their food comes from while also learning how to cook it and eat healthier.

Now, the school hopes to expand the farm-to-school program even further to participate with farms and other programs.

"We had aspirations of creating a farm-to-school program. Part of that was having the kitchen designed so that students could do cooking and baking," said Thompson in a phone interview.

"Then, last spring Chip and I were invited to join Vermont FEED (Food Education Every Day) to learn about implementing the program. We went to a school in Sharon, Vermont for a number of months. They have a school garden and are involved in the Junior Iron Chef program, and we saw how the classrooms are using their kitchen," she continued.

Once they completed the training and had developed lesson plans, they were ready to start implementing the program starting in the fall of 2014. For the grand opening, the students baked apple crisp ,and when the accreditation team visited, they baked apple muffins.

"It was a whole school project," Thompson said. "K-3 picked bushels and bushels of apples, grades four and five measured the ingredients using math skills, and the sixth to eighth graders did the baking using science and math skills."

Additionally, the school built a greenhouse where they planted seeds for spring and summer gardens and established a pollinator garden at the front of the school. Students grades six to eight created a vegetable garden along the back wall of the school students in kindergarten through to fifth grader planted herbs and perennials in whiskey barrels.

The projects were helped with the donation of garden gloves and soil from Home Depot and grant funds from Vital Communities, which was used to purchase garden tools to be used in the creation of the pollinator garden, as well as many others in and around Unity.

"Principal Baldwin donated manure from his farm that was mixed in with the loam," said Thompson.

School board members Bob Day and Bruce Howard have also donated their time and expertise to the school.

"Bob was a huge help with the gardens. He has expertise to lend to those of us who are developing our green thumbs," Thompson said. "Bruce is a bee keeper. He gave a demonstration about bees and showed the kids a bee hive and the process of making honey for the fifth to eighth graders."

"There was a lot of effort by the kids and staff to get all the work done this spring," said Baldwin.

Another component for the program was their partnership with Abbey Group in Enosburg, Vermont, which acted as their food service vendor. The company focuses on providing locally produced food for the district and is also the food service vendor for the Fall Mountain Regional School District.

"We're very excited to be working with the Abbey Group in the kitchen," Baldwin said.

Future plans

In addition to bridging more classroom time with kitchen learning activities, the school has plans to expand the program.

One avenue involves reaching out to the larger farms in the area and requesting them to "Grow-A-Row" for the school district. The farm would dedicated one row of their crop to be harvested and given to the school to use in their lunch program.

"It didn't happen this year but we hope it will happen next year," said Thompson.

The school would also like to create a Junior Iron Chef program modeled after the one used in Vermont.

"New Hampshire doesn't currently have a Junior Iron Chef program. Our partner, the Abbey Group, is willing to work with us to make it a club activity after school," Baldwin said. "We would love to be the first school starting it in New Hampshire."

Finally, they want to participate in the King Arthur Flour Bake For Good Kids Learn, Bake, Share program. Students learn how to bake bread at school, then take what they learned home where they bake a loaf of bread. The bread is then donated to a local soup kitchen.

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