Harwood Union & Vermont's Farm-to-School Movement
As Harwood's 2016/17 academic year comes to a close, momentum is clearly building among students and staff around Vermont's Farm-to-School (FTS) movement and the broader issues of environmental and economic sustainability within the Waterbury/Mad River Valley community. The seeds for this movement were planted this past fall when 8 students and 3 staff attended the Vermont Farm-to-School Conference at Lake Morey. Quickly thereafter, a student/teacher "FTS Committee" formed with the help of a new community partner, The Living Tree Alliance; located adjacent to Harwood (through the woods), Living Tree is committed to hands-on environmental education and developing "a learning laboratory for [Harwood] teachers and students to work on projects outside the classroom." The value of what Living Tree potentially brings to Harwood was quickly acknowledged by the 10+ teachers who attended a winter informational session: History, science, STEM, and adult transition programs have all expressed interest in finding ways to partner with this new neighbor. In addition, Living Tree is also interested in growing food for the cafeteria. Eventually, it is a hope that Harwood students could help plant, harvest, and process lunchroom produce.
Harwood's Farm-to-School Committee has established the goal of promoting local food systems as a means to helping students explore the importance of sustainability, nutrition, and connection to community. Over it's four meetings this winter and spring, students brainstormed future projects like revamping the Harwood garden; initiating lunchroom tasting tables with seasonal, local produce; and developing lessons for TA groups around food systems and our "food print". Student crossover between the FTS Committee and Harwood's Sustainability Club has only strengthened the thrust of this movement. The Sustainability Club has now broadened their focus to include many of the FTS projects - like the culinary herb garden they just planted outside the cafeteria - and plans to keep growing in scope by merging with the Youth Lobby next year. At the end of May, Sustainability Club members toured Living Tree's property and created plans to film/map the area with drones to promote it to the rest of the student body. During the visit, students met with Craig Oshkello, Living Tree's founder, and Eddie Merma, a local artist and builder who runs Sculpture School out of a maker space in Fayston. Mr. Oshkello and Mr. Merma are currently developing a proposal to collaborate with students on building an outdoor classroom for Harwood at the Living Tree site.
With an eye towards building a more sustained FTS movement next year, Living Tree Alliance members, teachers, and Harwood food service staff will be attending Vermont FEED's Farm-to-school Institute at Shelburne Farms in June. There, they will be engaging in professional development and developing a strategic plan for the future growth and sustenance of this program; Vermont FEED will also provide a coach to help support further implementation of goals next year. With so much going on, it is exciting to envision the possible implications of these initiatives for student engagement and growth. Next year is shaping up to be a good one!