Giving students hands-on experience with a school garden is a great way to teach the benefits of supporting local agriculture and leading a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.
A school garden also offers an excellent education on the economics of agriculture. This is especially meaningful to students in rural areas of Vermont and New Hampshire who have friends and families that farm for a living.
At Vergennes Union High in Addison County, Vermont, Fresh Picks Café is supporting a group of students, teachers and administrators who have made gardening a vital step on the path to sustainable schooling.
Last spring, the group, that calls itself “Sustainable Vergennes,” took over a set of dormant, raised beds on school grounds to plant crops like tomatoes, basil and onions to use in school meals.
All crops grown in the garden begin as seeds planted in the school green house. The students, many of whom participate in the school’s horticultural program, manage the entire growing cycle—from planting the seeds, to transplanting seedlings in the beds, to tending the garden in summer, to harvesting ripe produce.
Joallen Vincent, Fresh Picks Café Food Service Director for the Vergennes school district and founding member of Sustainable Vergennes, uses the produce in popular meals like tacos, topped with fresh salsa from homegrown tomatoes.
Grown in abundance, tomatoes make an appearance in a variety of Joallen’s Fresh Picks Café recipes for salads, soups and sandwiches. She makes pesto from basil and freezes it to have handy all year round. She sends food scraps from the cafeteria to Foster Brothers Farm in Middlebury, Vermont for composting.
At a school where many of the kids participate in FFA (Future Farmers of America), the lessons learned in the garden and cafeteria have special relevance.
“Vergennes kids get to experience the entire food chain first hand—from seed to fruit or vegetable to meal and back to the earth,” says Joallen. “By being hands-on, the kids develop a deeper, real-world understanding of the economics of farming, food science and environmental issues.”
Joallen has high hopes for the future of Sustainable Vergennes and is helping to focus the group on growth-generating projects—including building more beds and renovating an unused compost facility on school grounds behind the cafeteria.
“We work hard to talk up what we do around school to encourage more kids to get involved,” says Joallen.