What Farm to School month means to US...

 Farm to School month is almost over but we have a lot to say! And that's a good thing because the national Farm to School organization is inviting folks to share  stories about how they're connecting kids with local food and the farmers who grow it. And not just elementary schools - The National Farm to School Network began working to include Early Education settings in their great work back in 2011.
From their website:

Farm to preschool is a natural extension of the farm to school model, and works to connect early care and education settings (preschools, Head Start, center-based programs, programs in K-12 school districts, and family child care programs) to local food producers with the objectives of serving locally-grown, healthy foods to young children, improving child nutrition, and providing related educational opportunities. The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) began working to expand its robust farm to school networks and expertise to include early child care settings in 2011. Since then, NFSN has acted as a lead convener and facilitator for the farm to preschool movement, providing vision, leadership, and support at state, regional, and national levels.

At BCS, we know we are so lucky to live in the center of a thriving local food movement. If you read this blog you probably already know that we have a strong connection to the Intervale Center - an organization dedicated to building a  sustainable food system in our community by providing stewardship for the beautiful 350 acres of farms along the Winooski River known as the Intervale.  They do this by supporting new farms and farm business development, providing agricultural land stewardship, providing food systems research and consulting services, and  celebrating food and farmers!
illustration of the Intervale farms from the Intervale Center website
The Intervale is a special place for the children of BCS. They can reach it on foot, and spend lots of time there as a group in the spring and summer - looking for frogs in the pond, checking out the chickens, visiting parents who also happen to be farmers, and just enjoying the space.
For the past three years BCS has been lucky to participate in their Farm Share program - collecting and distributing gleaned produce from Intervale farms and sharing it with groups and organizations that feed kids and folks in need - for free.
I have so many stories about how our homegrown farm-to-school model has changed our school, our kids, and our families I can't fit them all into one post. But here's my favorite one right now.

 Every Monday from July to October I head down to the farm to pick up boxes (and boxes) of organic produce -   kale, spinach, greens, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, beets, radishes, watermelons and cantaloupe and, as we move into the fall, beautiful apples - all grown within walking distance of our school.
Fantastic volunteers load up the minivan with produce
Our Diggers! Thank you farmers, we love you.

Naturally we use lots of it for lunch every day. 

Kale salad for lunch
But there is more than we can reasonably eat, and lots of it doesn't lend itself to storing. Mesclun mix is best eaten fresh! So we started giving it away. Each Monday I would sort, package and store everything I knew we'd use that week, and pack up the rest in take-home sized packages. I'd put out a big bin full of fresh veggie packs with a sign letting folks know what was there, where it came from, and some cooking tips or recipe ideas they could take along with them.

Everything disappeared. Every time. 

Corn, arugula, butternut squash and carrots ready to take home
Kids loved seeing the veggies come out on Monday, and would often stop what they were doing to ask what was there and let me know they would be taking some home, whatever it was.
Our families were thrilled, and we were thrilled to know we were getting local organic produce onto  plates at home, not just at school.
Spinach and corn on a Monday afternoon
Sarah's zucchini cheat sheet!

We also plan our our Friday Take Home bags around the farm share. 
Friday Take Home bags ready to go
 Every Friday we pack up 10-15 bags with the ingredients for a large family meal, including lots of fresh veggies, and an easy-to-follow recipe.
Bags are free to anyone who requests one.
We do this because we know lots of our families struggle with food insecurity, particularly when school food is not available ( weekends, holidays..) but also because we believe in the power of family meals. We think cooking and eating together are important, and we want to help our families do more of it! In every bag we include a survey asking families if they used the recipe, if they liked the meal, how many people did it feed, and what else we can do to help. We want to know what obstacles people have to cooking and eating together. Lack of space? Needed kitchen equipment or utensils? Know-how? We want to know, so we can help with a solution.
The response to the take home bags has been incredible. But the best feedback came from a longtime BCS family. They, like many families, found themselves struggling to juggle the demands of budgeting, planning, and cooking healthy food for their two kids, and felt stuck relying on processed stuff, even though it's more expensive and not great for you. They were in need of inspiration, support, and some extra food to get through the week. Through their surveys and the photos they so kindly share with us, they let us know that Friday take-home bags have changed dinner at their house. They are cooking, and eating together, learning new recipes, and enjoying fresh veggies with their kids - something they never did before.

BCS family's homemade pizza with red peppers!

empty bowl of curry chick peas and carrots!
BCS kiddo enjoying family dinner at home!

  A family who never cooked from scratch at home are now roasting local carrots and squash and making spinach salad to accompany homemade pizza with local peppers.

So that's our story. For us, Farm-to-School extends all the way Home, and the benefits keep on growing! We love our families, we love our farmers, and we celebrate them this month and always!


Oh, Quinoa!

I wrote a post for the KidsVT Family Newspaper blog about my latest quinoa salad creation.

You can read it here if you're interested in a funny story about my quinoa obession.

OR just check out the recipe right here! The bottom line? Kids and grown ups love this one. Give it a try!

prepping ingredients

Warm quinoa salad

2 cups quinoa (I usually cook 2 cups of quinoa with 3-3.5 cups water and a pinch of salt. Bring it all to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.)
1 medium butternut squash – peeled, seeded, cut into ½ inch dice
1 small red onion, diced
3 or 4 scallions, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 cup crumbled feta cheese, divided
2 tsp dill
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp black pepper
Juice of ½ a lemon

Preheat your oven to 400. Toss the squash cubes with 2 tbsp of the olive oil until all the pieces are coated. Arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the hot oven for about 15 minutes.
While the squash is roasting, cook the quinoa, then transfer it to a large bowl.
Chop the onion and the scallions, and add to the quinoa while it’s still warm.
Check your squash! It’s ready when it’s easy to pierce with a fork and turning brown and slightly crispy on one side.
 Add it to the bowl, making sure you get any nice crunchy bits and all the oil from the pan.
Then throw in the salt, pepper, dill, and lemon juice and mix everything well.
Last, add ¾ cup of the feta and toss to combine.
Taste and adjust the salt, pepper, or lemon juice if you like.
Ready to serve!
To serve, sprinkle the last ¼ cup of the feta over the top, and drizzle over the last Tbsp of olive oil.


Ever heard of the Center for Agricultural Economy?

Neither had I. But now, they are my new heroes.

Last week we were were lucky to try out some pre cut veggies from a new program called Just Cut. Their mission is to provide options for seasonal produce from small Vermont farms to institutions that are looking to increase their local buying options, but that face the usual challenges of limited storage capacity, kitchen equipment, or skilled kitchen staff time.   This very cool project is supported by.... yep,  The Center for Agricultural Economy, based in  Hardwick VT.

From their brochure:

Founded in 2004, the Center for an Agricultural Economy has acted as a non-profit resource for local food systems in the northeast kingdom.

From food systems planning, technical assistance, business advising, to hunger relief, public events and community projects, the CAE is striving to create a regenerative, local based, healthy food system.

Pretty great, right?

They also run the Vermont Food Venture Center, a "multi-use process facility" designed to help budding food  entrepreneurs and farmers get their businesses running. They offer business plan consulting, training in the use of their industrial kitchen spaces - they have three, each with different specialty industrial equipment - and storage for farms  and food businesses.

Just Cut offers veggies that have been minimally processed (peeled and cut, or cut and frozen, nothing else) right at the Food Venture Center. The produce is high quality, local and traceable, and available for ordering right now through several area produce distributors.
Currently they are offering beets, potatoes, carrots, and broccoli in various cuts, fresh or frozen. We sampled three cuts of fresh carrots ( shredded, diced, and sticks) and fresh sliced beets.

They were great! Everything was fresh and delicious, and the beets especially were a huge hit.
beautiful beets
even the pan was pretty

Chicken soup made with the Just Cut diced carrots

Lunch for the babies

I am beyond excited about this program! Getting more local produce into schools and other institutions while strengthening small farms and community food systems...? Everybody wins.
Read more about the CAE and everything they do here...


Meanwhile, we've been cooking and eating up a storm in the kitchen at BCS. Here are some little folks enjoying some shepherd's pie along with shredded carrot slaw made with napa cabbage and sweet dressing...

Yes, these are....
actual preschooler lunch plates!

And a few random kitchen pics from this week.....

Shepherd's pie headed for the oven, 

Beautiful radishes from our farm share get a soak in the sink

Have a great week!