Cornwall kids eat & play local

CORNWALL — “Buy local” and “localvore” are words often used by those seeking to build a new economy shaped by the notion that producing and consuming goods closer to home can be healthier and require less reliance on fossil fuels.
Students at Cornwall’s Bingham Memorial School are not only taking those words to heart, they are putting them into practice on their tiny campus — with the help of their teachers and parents. Incoming students this fall are now reaping the rewards of recent efforts to build a new playground space made primarily with local volunteer labor and materials. And they are dining daily on a menu built, to a large degree, on produce and proteins culled from area farms.
“One of the biggest things for us is that the students understand where food comes from,” said Mindy Harvey, a 4th-grade teacher at Bingham School who has been advising students on the raising of four chickens on campus. “We’re pretty lucky here to be surrounded by farms, so kids have a sense of that. But we want to really drive home the connection of farm-to-table, and also the bigger environmental picture — the way we are treating our soils and water and how that affects animals and plants that then come on to our plate as our own food.”
School Principal Jen Kravitz is excited about the “think local” activities, which are involving, and benefitting, many Cornwall residents. The new playground was built by, and for, the entire community.
It was a few years ago that Bingham School leaders and students began to map out improvements to the playground. The existing structures are conventional and largely metal — the usual monkey bars and swing set. The school basketball court had hoops that could not be adjusted lower than adult regulation height — not real fun when you are tiny and can’t throw the ball high enough to touch the rim.
“It was really limiting,” Kravitz said of the former playground setup.
So the school formed a playground committee led by Kravitz and made up of parents, teachers and students. Using a previous student survey on playground preferences, the committee looked at ways of delivering better recreational opportunities to kids. They got help from a landscape designer and Yestermorrow, a Waitsfield organization that counsels schools on playground options and other building design issues.
Committee members were dedicated to the concept of a “natural play-scape,” Kravitz noted.
With that in mind, organizers designed some basic-yet-imaginative play structures that fit seamlessly within the school grounds and afforded children safety and shelter from the elements.
There’s “Peet’s Playhouse,” named for longtime Cornwall School Board member Cindy Peet. Made mostly of wood, the small, open “house” incudes two floors on which to play, with a climbing wall and slide.
Nearby are the “Hobbit house,” the “snake” and the “volcano.”
The volcano features a cluster of sturdy, upright logs of varying sizes on which children can hop. Those logs are assembled in a circular fashion around a small open space.
The Hobbit house is a kid’s dream. It consists of a culvert that pierces a small hill at the outer edge of the playground. When it is ready for tiny explorers (after the surrounding grass has had time to grow), the Hobbit house will give children the illusion of subterranean adventures.
Rest assured, the new playground “snake” doesn’t bite. It’s a long, narrow, windy berm on which kids will be able to balance and hop. Like the Hobbit house, the snake won’t be open for business until the grass grows in.
In the meantime, children can enjoy the other amenities, including a new, covered sand pile and a redesigned basketball court that includes adjustable rims.
Students love their new playground and are very excited about the two-dozen new trees that are being planted along the periphery of their play area. The trees will provide shade on hot days and a welcome buffer from the cold wind during the fall and winter months.
“It’s come along really well and it’s getting even better,” said Silas Taylor, a 6th-grader elected by his classmates to serve on the playground committee.
He added the new playground features “give you lots of freedom. It’s a really creative playground.”
Thanks to volunteers, donated materials and some supplies offered at cost, organizers were able to install the new play structures for around $15,000 less than had been projected. The school community raised the roughly $32,000 budget in around eight months, thanks to donations, special events and the raffling of a Woody Jackson painting.
Kravitz estimated 50 to 60 Cornwall residents helped do the heavy lifting for the project.
“It feels ready nice, because it’s a community playground and the community has come to support it,” Kravitz said. “Even people who don’t have kids participated at the work parties.”
After working up an appetite in the classroom and on the new playground, students can tuck in to healthy meals boosted by local ingredients from such places as the Elmer Farm, the Kent family orchard — and their own school garden. And Cornwall kids are becoming quite adept at chicken wrangling. The school recently acquired four little chicks that they are watching mature into what they hope will become prolific egg layers. Students see those eggs as a potential revenue stream to help sustain their local food efforts.   CORNWALL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL students Miley Hanson, left, Austin Gero, Molly Thelan, Erin Sears, Lia Calzini, Kate Kozak and Addie Young hold two of the four chickens they are helping raise at the school. The school hopes to sell eggs to help sustain a local food effort. 
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
In the meantime, they are benefitting from a nest egg of a different sort: A $10,000 farm-to-school grant from the state of Vermont. Bingham School has been using that money for such things as field trips — including five separate excursions to Middlebury College’s organic farm, where they learned more about farming and the local food movement.
Alexis Whitney enjoys her farm-related chores at school, which include cleaning out the bird cage and watering the new trees.
Lucy Goetz’s dad helped build Peet’s Playhouse. She said it’s neat having a family connection to something you enjoy during every recess.
“It turned out really well,” she said of the playground.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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