Vermonters Celebrate Farm to School Month & USDA Grant

BERLIN, VT — Supporters of Farm to School in Vermont gathered Monday morning at Berlin Elementary School to celebrate National Farm to School Month, as well as the awarding of an USDA Grant to NOFA-VT to support Farm to School efforts in the state. The group also participated in a tour of the school garden, hosted by several of the students at the school.

Berlin Elementary School Principal Aaron Boynton speaks about their Farm to School efforts in the school garden.

October is National Farm to School Month, a time to celebrate the connections happening all over the country between children and local food. Schools, early care and education providers, farms, communities, and organizations in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and U.S. Territories are hosting taste tests in the cafeteria, and nutrition education activities in the classroom or in child care or preschool programs, farm visits, and school garden harvest parties.

Nearly 4 in 5 Vermont schools have some Farm to School integration. 62% purchase over 10% of their food from local sources. 65% of schools are connected to a local farmer or farm.

Those gathered to celebrate spoke about the Three C's of Farm to School: Classroom, Community and Cafeteria. One of the great successes of Farm to School is bringing these three elements together to help programs succeed and be sustainable over time. Integrating the "three C's" also enriches the students' experience, as they learn the connections between growing food and eating food, and how good nutrition helps them stay healthy and learn better.

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts.

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts started his remarks by congratulating the students on their successful garden. He went on to say, "The value of the Farm to School program and our Farm to School Network partnerships is reinforced by the Data Harvest Initiative. Through this effort we can see the impact of our collaborative efforts. Connecting our farms to our schoos is a win-win for our kids, farmers and state."

The US Department of Agriculture funding will support The School to Farm: Know Your Farmer, Know Your School Project, which aims to develop a strong "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" culture among the students who participate in the program. Based on numerous successful farm to school projects in Vermont, the project will build excitement about local food for students, and will incorporate peer support for positive eating habits. Further, when locally sourced food is integrated into the cafeteria, school staff are more likely to purchase from the cafeteria as well, further deepening the opportunity for positive modeling and expand school community engagement with farm to school.

Berlin Elementary students introduce their hoop house used to extend the growing season.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the leading champion for Farm to School efforts on the Senate Agriculture Committee, was not able to attend the gathering, but he shared a statement:  "At Berlin Elementary, we see how kids who eat nutritious food learn better and live healthier lives, and how our farms thrive when they have access to local markets. We thank Vermont's leaders in education and agriculture for developing this partnership connecting the cafeteria, the classroom and the farm, advancing the national Farm to School movement. And congratulations to NOFA-VT for securing a Farm to School grant award. As you continue to develop stronger partnerships between schools and farm, I will continue to advocate for investment in Farm to School because it's a smart investment that yields broad returns, from healthier students, to resilient farms, to stronger communities in Vermont and across the country."

Ali Zipparo, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets Senior Agriculture Market Development Specialist; Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts; Anore Horton, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont.Ali Zipparo, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets Senior Agriculture Market Development Specialist; Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts; Anore Horton, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont.

Anore Horton, Executive Director of Hunger Free Vermont celebrated Farm to School by saying, "Hunger Free Vermont is proud to be a partner in helping schools to expand their meal programs to make sure all of their students are well nourished and to support the expansion of Farm to School in Vermont. Senator Leahy's strong and constant support for the federal nutrition programs and farm to school have been critical to our success."

Betsy Rosenbluth, Vermont FEED Project Director; Abbie Nelson, Vermont FEED Program Director; Pollaidh Major, Field Representative, Office of Senator Patrick Leahy; Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts.

Betsy Rosenbluth, VT FEED Project Director, thanked legislators for working to expand the Vermont Farm to School program, with both increased funding for the statewide grants program and increased access with an opening to allow early childhood programs to participate in Farm to School. She noted that the Vermont Farm to School Network is working towards a goal that by 2025, 75% of Vermont Schools will lead the cultural shift to a values-based food system that engages 75% of our students in integrated food system education; community-based learning; nourishing universal meals; and the experience of self-efficacy; purchasing at least 50% from a socially just and environmentally and financially sustainable regional food system.

Students enjoying lunch in the school cafeteria.

"Research shows that 90% of brain development occurs by age five," stated Matt Levin, Executive Director of the Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance. "That is why the expansion of Vermont's Farm to School program to early care and education programs is so important. This investment supports healthier nutrition options for Vermont's children in communities across the state."

Farm to School was born in Vermont and over the past decade, the farm to school movement has exploded across the United States, reaching millions of students in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and U.S. Territories. From school gardens and farm field trips to local food on cafeteria trays, farm to school practices help children learn about where food comes from and make healthier choices while also creating new markets for local and regional farmers.

2018 Vermont Farm to School Month in the news: