Love your broccoli

by Bethany M. Dunbar, April 24, 2010

How do we get children to eat better food?  Have them grow it.  Our First Lady Michelle Obama is making a great example with her garden at the White House.  Here in Vermont there is a program that is spreading rapidly throughout Vermont called Farm to School.  It’s getting children involved and guess what?  They love their vegetables when they grow them themselves.

If only George H. W. Bush had gone to school in Vermont.  He might have been a broccoli lover after all.  Then he could have set a better example.

Posted here is my story about this program which, in my opinion, every single school in the country should join — or start their own.  It not only means better nutrition for children, it connects local farmers with the schools.  In this case, the program is connecting with senior meal sites as well.

My only complaint?  They haven’t published a cookbook.  But you can get many of the recipes from their annual calendars.

Great work, kids.  Oh, and great work by the adults running this program too!

Green Mountain Farm to School program is growing — in more ways than one

Eli Petit enjoys a quiet moment of reflection in the sunflower house in the Coventry Village School Garden of Life. Photo courtesy of Green Mountain Farm to School.

by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, April 7, 2010

NEWPORT — Five more schools are joining the Green Mountain Farm to School program this growing season.  So the chances are good children in those schools will soon be clamoring for more rutabagas.

Katherine Sims, the executive director of the program, collects comments from children, hot lunch cooks, teachers, parents and anyone else involved in farm-to-school programs.  One of her favorites is from Becky Koennicke, food service director at Glover School, who said:

“Can you grow me more rutabaga?  The rutabaga we had last year was really well received.”

Another cook commented that if any particular food is from the school garden, the kids will eat it.  It’s that simple.

The culture of growing your own food is not foreign to many kids in Northeastern Vermont schools.  If their parents don’t do it, their grandparents probably did.  Ms. Sims is just trying to bring that culture back so that local schools serve food that comes from the neighborhood, children learn about that food and grow some themselves, and the grandparents share recipes and advice for cooking and preserving it.

“We have really, small, strong, close-knit communities,” she said, and the local agricultural heritage means the Northeast Kingdom can lead the way.

“It feels like an issue whose time has really come,” she added — and not just here.  Michelle Obama is planting a garden with local children at the White House, and all over Vermont there is a ten-year strategic Farm to Plate planning process going on to make more connections between local farmers and consumers.

Green Mountain Farm-to-School is working with schools from Hyde Park to Holland and at least 24 farms in Northeastern Vermont.

New schools this year will be elementary schools in Newport Center, Brighton, Morgan, Charleston and Craftsbury.  So far the program has focused on elementary schools, but Ms. Sims said they will soon be working with Lyndon Institute and have been talking with North Country Union High School and the junior high.  At that level, the students in marketing, horticulture, and culinary arts classes could get involved.

Working with high schools is a bigger job, and it’s a chance to get much more local food into school systems.  Farm-to-school coordinator Joanna Dillan said Lyndon Institute uses three bushels of apples a week and 200 pounds of ground beef.

Sometimes these ingredients cost a bit more, but often they don’t because shipping is less expensive.  Local apples turn out to be cheaper than apples shipped from Washington state.

Local ground beef might cost a bit more, but Ms. Sims believes the extra cost is worth it.

“It’s an investment in the health of our kids and our economy,” she said.

The program started in 2006 at the Jay-Westfield School.  It is funded one-third from individual and corporate donations, one-third from grants, and one-third from program fees.  Total revenues were $106,748 in the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2009.

Terry Lumbra of the Holland Elementary School prepares roasted roots for a taste test.

Originally Ms. Sims was the one staff member, but at this point there are six people working for the program.  Besides school gardens, the program arranges farm field trips for students and recently started making connections with four senior meal sites as well.

“What’s neat about working with seniors is they have so much they can share with us,” said Ms. Sims.

She said one senior told her that the corn bread recipe they were taste-testing one day tasted just like her grandfather’s old recipe.  The recipe has maple syrup and yogurt in it, so the corn bread is quite moist.

As the program has grown, more ideas have come out for improvements and expansions.

Farm-to-school has typically been part of the after-school program in schools that have an after-school program.  But Ms. Sims is happy to coordinate with the curriculum.  Students who were studying Native American culture could grow a “three sisters garden.”  That is a garden with winter squash, beans and corn all in one spot — not in rows.  That way, the squash leaves provide shade to keep the weeds out.  The corn stalks provide a place for the bean vines to grow, and the beans help fix nitrogen in the soil which the corn plants need.

At Albany Community School last year, there were not enough students in the after-school program to get the garden planted.  So Ms. Sims said they decided to recruit some helpers from each grade.  Each class identified a vegetable they would like to plant, and they were responsible for that particular row on planting day.

This accident worked out so well that the coordinators will incorporate it into other schools in the future as a way to get everyone involved.

Ms. Sims said the school gardens are planted with crops that will mostly be ready after school starts in the fall, but there is work to be done in the school gardens in the summer too.

If the school already has a summer program, students in that program can help with the school garden.

“This year we’re looking at a week-long garden camp,” she said.

Ms. Sims hopes to get the Agency of Agriculture’s mobile freezing unit up to the area to help with processing some of the vegetables.  She mentioned the possibility of a big “processing party.”

Here are some comments from students, who were answering a question about what they learned:

“I have learned that fruit is good for your body,” said Shane Craig, who is in second grade in Holland Elementary School.

“I learned how to make pretzels,” said Nick Winters, in grade four at Lowell Graded School.

“I learned about the germ, bran, endospem and stalk,” said Kylie Wright, in fourth grade in Coventry Village School.

“I learned, ‘Don’t yuck my yum,’” said Sam Austin, who is in second grade in Troy Elementary School.

Ms. Sims explained that students are asked not to say that a food they don’t like is awful or nasty because someone else might really like it.  Instead, students are asked to just say they don’t care for it.

Lowell Graded School is soon going to do a taste test of a fruit and oatmeal bar recipe to see if it would be a good recipe to add to the school lunch menu.  The recipe was provided by Amy Masi, who is a parent:

¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

8 oz. vanilla or plain yogurt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tsp. vanilla

2 Tbsp. milk

1 cup all purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. sat

3 cups old fashioned oats

1 cup diced fruit

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine sugars, yogurt, eggs, milk and vanilla; mix well.  In a medium bowl combine flour, baking soda, cinnaomn and salt.  Mix well.  Combine wet and dry mixtures.  Stir in oats and fruit.  Spread dough onto bottom of ungreased 13 by 9 inch baking pan.  Bake 28 to 32 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool completely on wire rack.  Cut into bars.  Store tightly covered.

To find out more about Green Mountain Farm-to-School, look at the program’s web site:  www.greenmountainfarmtoschool.org.

Salad taste tests ready to try. Photos courtesy of Green Mountain Farm to School.

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One response to “Love your broccoli

  1. Wonderful article, Bethany! Thank you very much for your support of healthy kids, healthy farms, and the work we’re doing at GMFTS.

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