Gather, taste and learn

Founders Memorial School celebrates farm to school program

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By Phyl Newbeck
For The Essex Reporter

Stacey Bruyns’ original plan had been a simple harvest dinner for parents and staff at Founders Memorial School, but like the food on the menu, the plan began to grow. Bruyns had been involved in organizing the Farm to School committee at Founders and the group applied for and received a Heart and Soul Grant, which they planned to use for the dinner. The more they talked about the event, the bigger it grew and soon they decided to create something resembling an indoor farmers’ market, sending invitations to others who would help them raise awareness of the Farm to School program and the benefits it brings. The event – called Gather, Taste and Learn – will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on March 5.

Abbie Nelson, the Education Coordinator for the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) and Christa Alexander, co-owner of Jericho Settlers’ Farm, will be the opening speakers. After that, guests will go from booth to booth as though at a farmers’ market, but in addition to having access to goods, they will also learn about the products and those who provide them. Vendors will include the Chittenden Solid Waste District demonstrating a worm compost bin, the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, Sugar Snap, Windstone Farm, the Jericho Settlers’ Farm, NOFA, Essex Technical Center and 4-H. Representatives from Essex Middle School who have competed in the Junior Iron Chef Competition will prepare food for the guests.

Bruyns, a health care provider, noted that one in four children in Vermont will be diagnosed with diabetes. “We want to decrease those odds,” she said “by providing great meals for children and partnering with farmers in the local area. It’s a win-win for everyone. Eating healthy has a positive impact for all those involved and unless we introduce this now, the odds might be two in four.”

NOFA Farm to Community Mentor John Connell is thrilled that events like this are occurring at schools across the state. “It’s a really great idea,” he said “because you’re bringing together students who are cooking good food, their families, the faculty and members of the community.” He noted that usually the vendors are local people so the events provide a great venue for them to acquaint the community with what they have to offer. Since neither he nor Bruyns is a school employee, Gather, Taste and Learn is also a chance to take the weight off the faculty and staff. “A lot of the work is being done by community people,” he said. “It’s for the school rather than by the school.”

For Connell, one of the highlights of the event is the fact that the students are doing the cooking. “It’s coming from them,” he said. “They’re putting together this fun evening and dinner and celebrating the food. Let’s give them recognition that they can really do things.” Connell stressed that the evening has no hidden agenda. “It’s not about money and it’s not about politics,” he said. “It’s about living and the care of the earth and the habits that go along with that.”

Christa Alexander of Jericho Settlers’ Farm is excited to be part of Gather, Taste and Learn. She has worked with other schools in the area but this will be her first opportunity to speak at Founders Memorial School. “There’s not as much opportunity now for kids to be connected to food in their own homes,” she said “because less and less people are raising their own food. That’s why it’s important for schools to bring this opportunity to kids so they can enjoy getting their hands in the dirt and eating really good food.”