February 2014: Farm to School: Classrooms to Cafeterias

Imagine our schools brimming with well-fed children who understand where their food comes from; school cafeterias serving the freshest offerings of locally-produced food; parents, teachers and administrators advocating for food education which supports a sustainable local food system.

In February, over seventy people gathered at Heberton Hall in Keene to attend a forum organized by the Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition (MFCC) to discuss plans to make this vision a reality. Attendees included teachers, farmers, healthcare workers, local government and non-profit representatives, concerned parents and local food enthusiasts from all over Cheshire County. We are leading the charge to develop robust Farm to School programs throughout the Monadnock region.

Richard Berkfield, executive director of Food Connects (FC), a non-profit food systems organization based in Brattleboro, moderated an engaging panel discussion at the event. He also shared lessons learned from five years of successful and innovative Farm to School work in the Brattleboro area. “A successful, and sustainable, Farm to School program needs to combine elements of “the 3 C’s”:  classroom, cafeteria and community”, Berkfield explains. “While we celebrate individual efforts, I want to stress the need for collaboration, ‘the 4th C’.

In this spirit of collaboration, the panel of experts was comprised of teachers, food service directors, and local food distributors. Eloise Clark and Rebecca Whippie from The Hooper Institute in Walpole, NH, and Jenny Wichland and Georgia Tasoulas of the Surry Village Charter School, shared their efforts and tips for doing more food, farm and nutrition education in the classroom. There were many teachers in the audience who were busy taking notes and gleaning resources.

Donna Reynolds of the ConVal School District shared how they are working hard in partnership with the Cornucopia Project to integrate more local and healthy food into their school cafeterias. School food services are faced with significant challenges, including tight budgets and labor challenges. Lunches are reimbursed by the federal government at less than $3 per meal, which includes the cost of labor! This makes it difficult (but not impossible!)  to include fresh and local food on the menu. However, thanks to innovative programs and institutional collaboration, this challenge is being addressed.  Several schools in Cheshire County and all of Food Connects’ nine member schools in the Brattleboro area have seen increased local food purchasing in recent years thanks to hard work and innovative new opportunities.

One of these new innovative projects is Monadnock Menus (MM), managed by the Cheshire County Conservation District. MM is a local food aggregation and delivery service which aims to increase sales of local food to schools and other institutions. Monadnock Menus is based on the successful model of Windham Farm & Food (WFF) in Vermont, which supplies locally produced food to the Brattleboro Food Co-op, local schools, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, senior homes and other institutions. Both Windham Farm and Food and Monadnock Menus need community support and greater awareness to generate the consumer demand to increase sales of locally produced foods in local institutions.

MFCC’s goal of enhancing synergy among constituents working for improved education and awareness of local food in the Monadnock Region is part of a larger movement underway in school districts and communities nationwide. Some benefits of Farm-to-School and related programs detailed in the forum include: healthier schools, less food waste, stronger local economies, and a food system in which nourishing food is accessible to everyone.


Dig in!

There are lots of ways that you can get involved!

  • Bring the farm and garden to your classroom today and download "Farm and Garden Education Toolkit"  produced by the Cheshire Conservation District.
  • Start a school garden! Download this school garden start up kit produced by the NH Farm to School program.
  • Ask if your cafeteria is sourcing local food. Spread the word about Monadnock Menus and Windham Farm and Food.
  • Ask your schools about school garden programs, taste tests, and other fun and engaging activities.
  • Check out the free resources provided by the Vermont Harvest of the Month (HOM) program. HOM provides ready-to-go materials for parents, teachers and food service staff to learn about one locally available food per month. Basic information, recipes and tips for cooking with kids have been popular aspects of this program. Free downloads are available at www.VermontHarvestoftheMonth.org
  • Attend the 5th Annual Farm to School Conference, in Brattleboro this April. (Details coming soon! Visit: www.FoodConnects.org for updates)
  • Save the date for the NH Farm to School /Preschool Conference: Raising the Stakes!, on May 20, 2014, Canterbury Shaker Village

Contact Information - Panelists and Exhibitors

Cheshire County Conservation District represents the conservation interests and priorities of the county, for the county. As such, the conservation district is fully vested in the preservation and enhancement of agriculture and its place and role within the community at large.
Contact: Amanda Littleton, amanda@cheshireconservation.org

Cheshire Healthy Eating Active Living links communities to strategies, tools and resources for creating healthy environments that help individuals and families make good choices where they live, learn work and play.
Contact: Maryanne Keating, mkeating@Cheshire-Med.com

ConVal Food Service Director: Donna Reynolds, dreynolds@conval.edu

The Cornucopia Project is a nonprofit educational farm for children based in Hancock, NH. Their primary goal is to increase children’s access to healthy food while providing the education necessary for them to make solid choices about healthy eating.
Contact: Kin Schilling, admin@cornucopia.org

A collaboration between Health Science and Early Childhood Education departments of Keene State College, Early Sprouts is an award-winning "seed to table" gardening and nutrition curriculum fostering enthusiasm for healthy foods in young children.
Contact: Karrie Kalich, kkalich@keene.edu

Farm Bureau: Farm to School
Contact: Beth Hodge, beth@echofarmpuddings.com

Food Connects supports Farm to School programs at nine member schools in the Brattleboro area. The non-profit organization’s mission is to cultivate healthy farm and food connections in classrooms, cafeterias and communities in and around Windham County. They are currently expanding to reach more schools in northern and central Windham County, as well as in southern Windsor County.
Contact: Richard Berkfield, richard@FoodConnects.org

The Hooper Institute in Walpole, NH is an educational program that serves the youth of Walpole from kindergarten through grade twelve. By following the will of George L. Hooper we conduct programs in the fields of  agriculture, forestry, botany, soils and environmental science.
Contacts: Eloise Clark, clarktreat@myfairpoint.net; Rebecca Whippie, rwhippie60@gmail.com

Keene State Dietetic Internship is an 11- to 18-month program for people who have bachelor’s or master’s degrees in a nutrition-related field, with a focus on community nutrition, education, and wellness.
Contact: Karen Balnis, kbalnis@keene.edu

Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition is a regional coalition whose mission is to support a sustainable food system by cultivating community action and building collaborations to implement effective programs, projects and policies.
Contact: Roe-Ann Tasoulas, coordinator@mfccoalition.org

Monadnock Menus is an aggregation and distribution service in Cheshire County, NH for locally produced farm products and other foods.
Contact: Sara Lovitz, coordinator@monadnockmenus.org

The NH Farm to School Program serves as a facilitator engaging farmers, distributors, food service directors, teachers, health educators and administrators in adopting farm to school practices.
Contact: Stacy Purslow, Stacey.Purslow@unh.org

Stonewall Farm is a nonprofit working dairy farm, year-round community supported agriculture garden (CSA), farm stand, and learning center in Keene, NH.  Stonewall Farm's education department  works with teachers, parents and the community to provide enriching farming experiences for all ages.
Contact: Hannah Fleischmann, hfleishmann@stonewallfarm.org

Surry Village Charter School is a tuition-free public school alternative.
Contacts: Jenny Wichland, jenny@surryvillagecharterschool.org; Georgia Tasoulas, gtasoulas@aol.com

 Windham Farm and Food is an aggregation and distribution service in Windham County, VT for locally produced farm products and other foods.
Contact: Sara Lovitz, windhamfarmandfood@gmail.com

To advocate for local, state and federal policies supportive of Farm to School initiatives,  join our Policy Working Group. Our next meeting is Wednesday, March 26th, 3:30pm-5pm, at the Keene Public Library.

To enhance synergy around education, awareness, and access of healthy eating and the importance of locally-produced food, please join our Education Working Group. Our next meeting is Thursday, March 6th, 4pm-5pm, at the Keene Public Library. 

MFCC's member-driven vision is "a vibrant, safe and efficient local food system that enhances the health of our community, is profitable for farmers and producers, is accessible to all community members, conserves natural resources, and is sustained by strong leadership and commitment in the Monadnock Region." For more information, contact Roe-Ann Tasoulas, MFCC Director, at coordinator@mfccoalition.org.

*Portions of this written by Helen Rortvedt and Richard Berkfield.