Locals eye future of county farm-to-school efforts

VERGENNES — On Tuesday evening, voices in farm-to-school efforts across the county joined together to create a “stone soup” of ideas for bringing local foods into the cafeteria and the classroom.
The event was the third and final Stone Soup Conference, this oneat Vergennes Union High School, put on by the Addison County Relocalization Network.
The event, aimed at fostering discussion across schools and school districts, brought together foodservice workers, school administrators, nurses, farmers, students and teachers to share their efforts and goals to bring more local foods and food awareness into the classroom.
After separating to discuss initiatives in each arena, the groups came back together, each with a brightly colored vegetable inscribed with what they’d discussed.
VUHS principal Peter Reynolds said that on the administrative level, the focus has been and will continue to be supporting farm-to-school efforts through school gardens and foodservice purchases.
Judy Stevens of Golden Russet Farm said farmers could work with schools to distribute local foods and work with teachers to create on-farm educational opportunities. She added that farmers could also create work opportunities for students on farms, and possibly try to work with schools to negotiate credit for those students.
Stevens also said her group discussed more interaction with teachers, including the possibility of holding mixers for farmers and teachers.
Barbara Yerrick, a teacher at Monkton Central School, said her students have been working with farmer pen pals to learn more about agriculture. She said teachers couldbring students to farms and invite farmers into classrooms, as well as createopportunities for students to help cook and prepare local foods. Yerrick added that teachers could beaware of opportunities to connect farming and food into all areas of the curriculum, from science to art.
Moira Cook of the Vermont Department of Health said school nurses and health officials can make the connection between health and nutrition clear to students and parents, and that they can push for school policies that promote healthier and more local foods.
Porter Knight, a Bristol Elementary School and Mount Abraham Union High School parent, said parents can support teachers and administrators who are working on farm-to-school projects, both by contributing their own ideas and helping to build buy-in and involvement in projects from residents and students.
One member of the student group said he and his classmates could work on composting and recycling initiatives within their schools, and on educating students about recycling.
And Laurie Bruce, manager of Middlebury Food Services, said those working to create the food could share recipes for local foods, pre-buy foods from local farmers, and make fresh foods appealing by holding food tastings and encouraging staff members to eat with the students.
Bruce also said getting students involved in food preparation can help create ownership over the healthy foods they’ve cooked.
“They’ll eat it because it’s theirs,” she said.
At the event, a number of students were also recognized as winners of the ACORN Farm to School Entrepreneur awards for their initiatives in the food and agriculture arenas.
Anna Willenbaker and Alex Coyle won the top business entrepreneurship award, as well as a prize of $100, for their Shellhouse Chicken Eggs business. The two Vergennes Union High School sophomores raise 100 birds and sell the eggs at the Vergennes Farmers’ Market and on yourfarmstand.com.
“We realized that other chicken owners didn’t treat birds right,” the two wrote in their entry for the award. “Happy chickens make fantastic eggs and happy customers.”
Marcy Langlais, a senior at The Walden Project in Monkton, took home the top prize for social entrepreneurship, winning $150 for “A cycle of sustainability.”
Langlais got certified as a compost operator at the Highfields Center for Composting and spearheaded a school-wide composting project that takes scraps from Vergennes Union High School to the garden at the Walden Project, where they are composted for soil. Langlais accompanied her project with efforts to educate students on composting and trash disposal.
Emma Ryan and Hannah Kraus of Middlebury Union High School received a second place nod for their documentary, “LOCAL: A look into the lives of our local businesses.” The work profiled Neshobe Farm, Good Companion Bakery, Little Hogback Farm and a number of other local establishments.
The second place business award went to Joseph Sawyer of Mount Abraham, who raises and sells hogs at Cloverset Farm in New Haven. Sawyer picked up the hog business after his family’s fourth-generation dairy farm went out of business in 2011.
Liz Scott, Sara Kimball and Asa Vessa of MUHS placed third in business entrepreneurship for their alternative micro greens project. The students sell the salad components to the school kitchens and teach other students about growing the greens themselves.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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