Schools make connections with county’s farm community

BRISTOL — Dozens of farmers, students and educators from around the county gathered to celebrate the growing farm-to-school movement at Addison County Relocalization Network’s (ACORN) Stone Soup summit last Thursday, held at Mount Abraham Union High School.
“ACORN’s work in this area is to try to facilitate the connection between food service and local farmers,” said Lea Calderon-Guthe, manager of ACORN. The organization’s annual event was an opportunity to bring diverse players in the farm-to-school movement from around the region into the same room to learn, network and be inspired by one another.
The event featured inspirational stories from the county’s school community, round-table discussions that focused on challenges faced by the farm-to-school movement, awards for students and educators, and a “local foods feast” with a menu invented and prepared by student teams from the Addison County Jr. Iron Chef competition.
The participants heard from MAUHS sophomores Izzy Moody and Louissa Rozendaal, who shared triumphs from the school’s composting initiative. Ruth Beecher, the fourth-grade teacher at Robinson Elementary School, and Eugenie Doyle, a Monkton farmer who started a pen pal correspondence with Beecher’s students about life on the farm, also gave presentations, as did Gay Truax, the meals director at Salisbury Community School.
Also presenting were Billy Connelly, a member of the Mary Hogan Elementary School board, and Suzanne Young, a Child and Adult Care Food Program coordinator at Mary Johnson Children’s Center.
“Ten years ago these conversations weren’t happening at all,” Truax said. “When we started our wellness program in Salisbury, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about this happening… It’s really fun to watch what’s happening to the kids.
“They had a lot of ingrained ideas about what food was and how it came from a box. There’s a lot of money spent in our country on the box,” she added. “Being a small school we really wanted to show the kids and help them learn, to expose them to different ways of eating and you can’t, in my mind, do that without showing them where food comes from.”
Participants also broke into small groups to discuss initiatives and challenges that are common to many farm-to-school programs and to give people the opportunity to share advice and insights. Group topics included recipe idea swaps, creative fundraising techniques, and ways that service learning programs might be developed on farms.
After that, awards were given based on nominations submitted by people from around Addison County. The Student Entrepreneur Awards honored Middlebury Union High School’s Elizabeth Scott, a junior who launched a sustainable greenhouse project, and Vergennes Union High School junior Ethan Gevry, for his work at his family’s Champlain Valley Farm. Gevry is now raising pigs, cattle and turkey and netted a contract with Black River Produce for pork.
The Farm-to-School Inspiration award went to Lynne Rapoport, a nutrition liaison to VUHS.
“She’s a powerhouse for the farm-to-school movement at Vergennes,” Calderon-Guthe said. “She does so many different things in so many different fields — people know her from everywhere.”
“Our other nominees were doing equally amazing things,” Calderon-Guthe added. She credited nominee Jenn Staats, a para-educator at Middlebury’s Mary Hogan School, with spearheading farm-to-school initiatives in that school. She also made note of the dedicated work of the third nominee, Lisa Sprague, the food service manager at Vergennes Union Elementary School.
After awards were doled out, participants ended the day’s events with a feast of kale salad, root vegetable frittata, tofu burgers, soup and shepherds’ pie prepared by teams of local students, whose recipes had won them recognition at last month’s Addison County Jr. Iron Chef competition.
“As everyone left they had this look on their face of, ‘OK, I’m gonna go out and do something!’” Calderon-Guthe noted. “It’s so good to see those solidified connections, having people know that the best resource in Addison County are the other people involved in this movement.”
Reporter Xian Chiang-Waren is at [email protected].

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