Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED, a collaboration of Shelburne Farms and NOFA-VT) will host its second annual Northeast Farm to School Institute, a year-long learning opportunity for schools to advance their initiatives in food, farm, and nutrition education while serving local products in cafeterias.
With the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5003) recently moved out of committee by the U.S. House of Representatives, it’s a vital time to focus on children’s health. VT FEED argues that an essential way to address this and related issues is through farm to school programs. These programs help promote school and summer meal participation; consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables; and food, farm, and nutrition education. While advocating for a strong bill that improves child food access and doubles funding for the USDA Farm to School grants program, VT FEED is providing advanced farm to school training to 13 New England and New York school teams through its 2016-2017 Institute.
Beginning with a three-day retreat at Shelburne Farms on June 28, school foodservice staff, teachers, administrators, and community partners will expand their understanding and practices of farm to school in and outside of the classroom. With the support of coaches, each school team will create and implement a 2016-2017 farm to school action plan. These plans integrate proven effective practices into schools, such as visiting farms, gardening and cooking activities, serving seasonal foods in school cafeterias, and offering food systems-based hands-on science, math, and literacy lessons. The Institute builds and strengthens a Northeast peer-to-peer community of farm to school practitioners and model schools focusing on best practices.
VT FEED’s Institute model is proving impactful. Highlight accomplishments from last year’s Institute teams include: building school gardens and a hoop house (Falmouth Public Schools, ME); incorporating farmers market scavenger hunts into curricula and winning New York State’s youth cooking competition (Waterville Central School District, NY); sourcing 100 percent of the school’s ground beef locally and planting 1,000 pounds of potatoes to be utilized during the school year (Guilford Central School, VT); initiating a farmer-student correspondence program and weekly vegetable taste tests (Manchester Elementary Middle School, VT). Northeast states are in the top 15 percent of farm to school participation efforts nationally, according to the recently released USDA Farm to School survey.
Vermont is an ideal host location for the Institute. The state’s continuing leadership in locavorism has been credited in part to its robust farm to school initiatives. While 42 percent of schools participate in farm to school nationally, 83 percent of districts in participate in Vermont, according to the USDA census. The state’s schools spend 17 percent of their budget, or $1.5 million, on local foods. A University of Vermont study found that for every dollar state schools spend on local food, $1.60 is contributed to the local economy, demonstrating farm to school’s win-win model for student health and local economies. Through the Institute, VT FEED has supported the development of farm to school programs at 62 schools and districts, reaching over 38,000 students.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), champion of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and Farm to School Act of 2015, said: “One of the best places to tackle rising childhood obesity rates is in our schools, where we know students form the foundations for lifelong eating habits. Through innovating and sharing best practices, the Northeast Farm to School Institute does just this. It improves childhood nutrition, promotes healthy eating choices, and helps students understand where their food comes from.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont, Jane’s Trust, and Doe Family Foundation are providing generous support for the 2016-2017 Northeast Farm to School Institute. Its 80 participants are from Trenton Elementary School (ME), Walker School (ME), Holyoke High School (MA), Chicopee Public Schools (MA), Seabrook School District (NH), Epping School District (NH), New London Public Schools (CT), Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School District (NY), Cornwall School (VT), Prosper Valley Schools (VT), Lyndon Institute (VT), Newbury Elementary School (VT), and Floodbrook Elementary School (VT). Also observing the Institute are representatives from USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Food Corps (CT), and The Food Trust (PA).
To learn more about the Northeast Farm to School Institute, please visit www.vtfeed.org.
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A partnership project of Shelburne Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) is a statewide Farm to School program that raises awareness about healthy food, good nutrition, and the role of farms and farmers in building healthy food systems. VT FEED offers professional development services and resources to teachers and school food service, provides technical assistance to farmers and school professionals, and connects youth with agriculture and healthy food through such events as Junior Iron Chef Vermont, established in 2008 as one of the first youth culinary competitions to focus on local food and school meals. VT FEED also published the first-ever school cookbook to incorporate new USDA nutrition guidelines in recipes created by and for school chefs, featuring local, seasonal ingredients. VT FEED’s work has been featured in EatingWell, Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, and CNBC, among other outlets.