Written by Shane Rogers, Green Mountain Farm-to-School
Be on the lookout, AmeriCorps members serving with Green Mountain Farm-to-School (GMFTS) as farm-to-school coordinators are bringing place-based nutrition and agriculture education into schools across the Northeast Kingdom – 27 to be exact. Using original, grade-specific curriculum, created with the financial support from the Stony Point Foundation, farm-to-school coordinators are teaching lessons aimed to engage students in all aspects of the budding Vermont food scene, from history to hands-on activities, with unit lessons like, “Moo to You,” “A-maize-ing Corn,” and “Vermont Crops, from Past to Present.”
“The goal of creating the Vermont-based nutrition and agriculture curriculum was to provide our farm-to-school partner schools with engaging academic lessons that focused on the past and present of the great agriculture in our backyard,” says Katherine Sims, executive director of GMFTS, “With the generous support of the Stony Point Foundation we were able to create lesson plans for kindergartners through eighth graders.”
Fashioned over the past two years, the different lesson plans created by GMFTS, a series for each grade level, are helping the Northeast Kingdom elementary schools lead by example in the region while also accomplishing goals set forth by Vermont’s Farm to Plate food system plan. Through working with GMFTS, the schools are expanding and offering a wide range of educational programming around the needs of the Vermont food system, effectively growing a generation of Vermonters who will be able to continue the work of organizations like GMFTS, an active member of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network.
The lessons were authored by past farm-to-school coordinators, who were serving an AmeriCorps term with GMFTS, and full-time staff members with the goal of providing a strong foundation for growing nutrition and agriculture education in the schools. They continue to be updated and tailored to the needs of schools by the new round of AmeriCorps members and staff who use them each week in classrooms throughout the Northeast Kingdom.
“The GMFTS curriculum provides a great outline for teaching students about nutrition, agriculture, and healthy food that they can find right in the state of Vermont,” says Caroline Aubry, an AmeriCorps member and farm-to-school coordinator who began serving with Green Mountain Farm-to-School in August. “And the lessons are flexible so they can meet the needs of the teachers hosting us in their classes.”
A typical lesson has clear objectives, tailored to the student’s grade level that each coordinator is working to accomplish. For example, in a lesson from the third grade unit, “Eating through the Seasons,” FTS coordinators have objectives such as: 1.) “students will understand why different crops grow at different times of the year.” 2.) “students will learn why they need to eat a diversity of fruits and vegetables throughout the year,” and 3.) “students will explore how they can stay healthy through the seasons by eating a variety of seasonal Vermont produce.”
The lessons are paired with activities that aim to engage the students while educating them about the topics in each lesson. Activities can include more traditional lessons like stories of Vermont farming families, like the Robinsons from the 1800s whose land is now a museum, that pair with the “Eating through the Seasons” lesson. “Animals on the Farm” plays to the more fun and goofy as a kindergarten unit where students dressing up in chicken, sheep, and cow costumes.
In the 2014-2015 school year, Green Mountain Farm-to School delivered 484 hands-on nutrition and agriculture workshops and lessons to over 5000 students using the new farm-to-school curriculum. This is a 50 percent increase in the number of workshops and lessons delivered in the previous year, due in part to the uniformity and structure provided by the creation of these ready-to-go lessons.
Teaching unit lessons for the different grades is a large part of the farm-to-school coordinators responsibility. However, the AmeriCorps at GMFTs are also helping schools in the Northeast Kingdom lead the charge in facilitating kids who are “food literate.” Providing kids with hands-on experiences that show them the origin of their food in schools gardens, introducing them to and cooking with new and familiar Vermont vegetables for school-wide taste tests and harvest dinners, and running after-school programs focused on nutrition and agriculture education all help develop a greater understanding of how to obtain, grow, store, and prepare nutritional food – also a Farm to Plate goal.
The flexible, yet structured, unit lessons coupled with additional programming that promotes food literacy, allows schools in the Northeast Kingdom to foster a beneficial working relationship with GMFTS and its farm-to-school coordinators to connect students to the regional food system through nutrition and agriculture education.
Learn more about Green Mountain Farm-to-School at www.greenmountainfarmtoschool.org.