On Wednesday, February 6, 2019, Farm to School champions gathered at the Vermont State House in Montpelier to advocate for the expansion of Vermont’s Farm to School and Early Childhood program and raise awareness of the positive impact of this program.
Our goal for Farm to School is $500,000/year in state funding so we can achieve our Network goal: 75% of Vermont schools with integrated food system education and nourishing meals, purchasing 50% from local and regional sources by 2025.
The program is a win-win for the state: reducing childhood hunger, improving child health and learning, and contributing to the Vermont economy by keeping our school purchasing dollars here with local farmers and producers. To date, the Vermont Farm to School Grants Program has supported 105 schools and 39 early childhood programs to expand local purchasing, food, farm and nutrition education, and school nutrition programs like universal free meals which is now in 76 schools.
The Network testified before six House and Senate Committees, including a joint hearing before House and Senate Agriculture The Committee tooks time to hear directly from farmers, students, school nutrition directors, teachers, early childhood educators, and school administrators on how Farm to School makes a difference. Here are just a few highlights from these testimonies:
Jim Birmingham / School Food Director, Montpelier-Roxbury
We see real benefits in the cafeteria from our efforts in local procurement. One of my core philosophies is this idea that we can control costs by focusing on quality food. The more sales we can have, the easier it's going to be for us to break even at the end of the year. Bringing local foods into our cafeteria is a really great way for me to increase participation. It's proven, I've gotten it to work.
Peter Burmeister / Farmer, Burelli Farm
I really believe in the educational component of [Farm to School]. It's very, very important for children in the 21st century to know where their food comes from. And my experience has been, based on my own children and my grandchildren, that they don't really get that education in most school systems. So in this area, in this aspect, Vermont is very, very unique.
Rebecca Bishop / Assistant Director, Bennington County Head Start & Early Head Start
[Within our Farm to School programming], there's a taste testing component. Students try foods such as microgreens, edible flowers, or they pick vegetables to turn into pizza or salsa. But, preschoolers and trying new vegetables don't always go together. Sometimes they take a smell, or a lick, and then they might finally decide to taste it. But when they’re tasting new foods in the garden, they're actually willing to try those local, healthy foods and they like them.
Sam Rowley / Educator & Farmer, Green Mountain Technical & Career Center
We have 100% farm-made lunches. My students are out in the field harvesting vegetables: we're washing them, we're weighing them, we're packing them, and then we're sending them right to the cafeteria. So by the second day of school, we’re eating vegetables we harvested in the cafeteria – a real straight connection. The program also makes a little bit of money off of that, too, which is important as a technical education program. We try and run our programs like a business in some ways, so the students can enter the workforce with that experience.
Emily / Student, Green Mountain Technical & Career College
When I joined the agriculture program, little did I know like how much of a difference it was going to make in my physical well-being and my mental well-being. I thought I had been eating healthy every single day, but I really wasn't. I had no idea what was going in my food: processing, refined sugars, and different things I couldn't even pronounce. Within weeks [of eating the produce we grew at school], it was getting easier and easier for me to walk up the hill, my mental health skyrocketed, I was happy, and I enjoyed what I was doing every day. I know exactly where my food comes from, and it makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I'm involved in it: I've touched it, I've planted it, and I know exactly where it's going.
Faye Mack / Advocacy & Education Director, Hunger Free Vermont
Often, school meals are the most nutritious food that children have access to, and school lunch can be last nutritious meal a student may have until they come back to school for school breakfast the next day. When a school meal program incorporates Farm to School practices, the meals quality improves and children are more likely to participate and eat the food, which helps bring in more revenue for the school meal program and allows schools to go out and purchase even more local food from producers and farmers from the state.
Harley Sterling / School Food Director, Windham Northeast Supervisory Union
As someone who tries to get people to eat my food for a living, working with elementary school students provided a whole new set of challenges and resistance that I didn't even imagine existed. Food that I know, for a fact, was good. [I saw] the value of Farm to School: when a child grows a potato or grows a pepper, that resistance almost completely fades… suddenly there's not just a willingness to eat it, but a sense of pride and accomplishment. And it's contagious. I'm now working with six schools, and I see varying levels of resistance and support for [school food programs] based on where the schools are in their school garden programs and Farm to School curriculum.
Barrett Williams / Principal, Sharon Elementary School
I think more than anything what Farm to School programs do and what place-based education does in general is that they make learning relevant. [I saw] One student in particular that struggled with a traditional learning classroom. Sitting in a seat for 45 minutes and trying to stay focused and attentive to the task at hand is really challenging. And when you put him, or really any student with that learning profile, in a different environment where they're able to touch it, taste it, see it, feel it — that learning now becomes relevant. When we asked that student to do a writing prompt after sitting 45 minutes in class, oftentimes we’d get two sentences, maybe three, on a good day. But after coming back from one of the local farm visits that we go on, we’d ask him to write about his experience at that farm, we were likely to get multiple paragraphs. And I think that's very powerful.
Wyatt / 5th grade student, Floodbrook School
Our garden has raised beds, and we are planting lots of different things. Every year we learn what plants work and what we need to try again. I hope in the future we get a well, grow pear trees, and have some more apple trees. Being a part of Farm to School has changed me because I didn't like gardening, but once I joined Farm to School, I liked it a lot.