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!


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