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Brattleboro-Based Food Connects Awarded Nearly $25,000 in Grants for School Nutrition and Supporting Children with Adverse Childhood Experiences

BRATTLEBORO, VT - Food Connects, a non-profit organization that focuses on community-based food systems, has been awarded two grants totaling $24,900. These funds will support work with the Brattleboro schools in partnership with the Vermont Department of Health on improving student nutrition and food access. The grants were awarded by the Thompson Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Nutrition plays a pivotal role in young people being able to reach their potential in life. Simply put, well-nourished children are more healthy – both physically and emotionally, which sets them up to be better learners,” said Shyla Foss, public health nutritionist with the Health Department’s Brattleboro office. “We are very pleased to have received this funding, and extremely fortunate to partner with Food Connects to increase access to healthy foods.”

The two-year, $20,000 grant from the Thompson Trust, focuses on strengthening nutrition and Farm to School programming as part of an effort to develop a Trauma-Informed approach to education. The funding will be used to improve faculty and staff understanding of the connection between nutrition and trauma, to increase schools' capacity for coordinating food and trauma education and activities, and to strengthen local food purchasing and promotion by school cafeterias.

Trauma-Informed education provides support for students with high Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scores. ACE studies measure 10 types of childhood trauma – such as abuse, neglect (including persistent food insecurity), domestic violence, separation or divorce, substance abuse, mental illness, and family member incarceration. ACE scores reflect the traumatic stress experienced by children. ACE scores of four or more correlate with higher likelihood of risky behaviors, and increased risk of illness, chronic health conditions, social and emotional problems, low life potential, and early death.

"Food Insecurity is just one of the many traumatic experiences faced by young people at Academy School,” said Judith Palmeri, school counselor at the Academy School. “It is vital for our school district to help build resiliency for children with high ACE scores.  One way to do this is through the nutrition and community building activities that will happen as a result of this grant."

“The science tells us that by focusing on supporting children who have these experiences, we can make substantial differences in their lives,” said Sheila Humphreys, Farm to School coordinator for Food Connects. “Brattleboro schools are actively engaged in conversations about how to support these students to have better outcomes, and we are proud to partner with them in this important work.”

Working with the Vermont Department of Health, Food Connects was awarded a $4,900 Robert Woods Johnson Foundation grant to support school cafeterias at Brattleboro Union High School, Brattleboro Area Middle School, and the Brattleboro Town Schools. The grant will be used to purchase kitchen equipment to process more whole, fresh ingredients, to promote healthy school meals to students and families, and to provide technical assistance to food service professionals around menu planning and related activities.

“We’re looking forward to how school gardens, community harvest celebrations, and healthier food choices in the cafeteria will nurture the students in our community,” said Kate Venne, Food Connects’ Farm to School program manager. “Healthy food and quality nutrition programs mean these children will grow and flourish!”

Food Connects is an entrepreneurial non-profit that delivers locally produced food as well as educational and consulting services aimed at transforming local food systems. The Food Hub aggregates and delivers from over 65 local farms and food producers to over 115 buyers in southeast Vermont, southwest New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts. Our educational services focus on Farm to School programming. Acknowledged as a statewide leader, Food Connect supports over 30 schools to increase local food purchasing, school meal participation, and food, farm, and nutrition education. Together these core programs contribute to a vibrant local economy by increasing local food purchases by schools and improving students’ nutrition and academic performance. Additionally, Food Connects is frequently hired to provide leadership and consulting services for efforts aimed at transforming local food systems in the New England region.