NEWFANE—The students at NewBrook Elementary got to play games in the sun, make pizza, pretend to be bees, harvest cilantro seeds, and fashion corn husk dolls last Friday, Oct. 16, at the school’s second annual Farm and Field Day.
Principal Scotty Tabachnick said that this school-wide outdoor learning fair was focused on local farm and food education.
Community educators operated eight learning stations. The entire student body was divided into mixed-age groups that rotated through the stations. Each group was named after a fruit or vegetable, such as basil, pumpkin, and broccoli.
This is the second year NewBrook has held the Farm and Field Day, but this is the first year the wood-fired pizza oven cranked out pies as part of it.
“Last year, students and staff built the pizza oven,” said school counselor Emily Bullock, who, along with first- and second-grade teacher Heather Sperling, coordinated the day’s event.
Bullock said “many community members helped put it up,” and some provided excavating services, laid down gravel, and built the base.
Last year, she said, “students mixed clay and sand with their bare feet” to construct the dome-shaped oven.
That oven was part of one of the learning stations. Tristan Toleno, owner of Rigani Wood-Fired Pizza, was decked out in a tomato-red chef jacket, pizza peel in-hand. His job that day was to shuttle 10-inch pizza pies into and out of the oven.
At the start of the first pizza-making assembly line, a teacher introduced Toleno, who is also a member of the Vermont House, to the students in the Broccoli group.
“He’s a pizza guru,” she said. “That means he knows a lot."
At long tables, teachers, students, and community volunteers rolled out pizza dough onto round pans, then ladled bright red sauce on top.
Nick Pawlush and Asher Schlusselberg, general managers at The Four Columns Inn, brought the sauce, “made from local heirloom tomatoes,” Pawlush said.
Schlusselberg asked the children in the Broccoli group, “How many of you like pizza?"
Nearly every kid’s hand went up.
“I don’t like cheese!” said one boy.
“Well, I love cheese,” countered Schlusselberg.
Pawlush said he and Schlusselberg “donated some local cheese” to put on top of the pizzas. Bennington’s Maplebrook Farm was well represented by their fresh mozzarella and cheddar curds.
Other toppings included fresh basil, kalamata olives, tri-color peppers, broccoli florets, slices of pepperoni, and chunks of pineapple.
After the students composed the pies, they carefully walked the pans over to Toleno, who remarked on the heat coming from the oven. He told a visitor the story of another pizza oven he and his staff used at an event. One of Toleno’s employees had a cellphone in his pocket. As he approached the oven, the cellphone’s mechanical voice announced, “Too hot. Shutting down."
At the Harvest of the Month table, Nathanael Matthiesen, education and outreach coordinator at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, scooped out little paper cups of cauliflower-and-broccoli soup to give to the students.
Matthiesen explained the Harvest of the Month program was a joint effort between the Co-op, Food Connects, and the Vermont Farm-to-School program. “The students try a new vegetable every month,” he said. “This month is cauliflower and broccoli."
“I love broccoli and cauliflower!” one of the kids in the Basil group yelled.
In keeping with the day’s focus on the environment, students put their used soup cups into a box labeled “Compost."
At the same table was Meredith Wade, a community volunteer who once held Matthiesen’s job at the Co-op.
“When I knew they were having [the Farm and Field Day], I knew I wanted to participate,” Wade said.
“I thought it would be interesting to talk to kids about the parts of plants we eat — flowers, seeds, roots, and fruit,” she added.
Wade led what she called “the sorting game.” She first explained to the students the various edible parts of plants, explaining some vegetables are also fruits.
“If it has seeds inside, it’s a fruit,” she told the kids.
“What about a pumpkin?” she asked them.
“It’s a fruit!” they shouted back.
Then Wade handed four children each a card where she had written the edible parts of plants. The kids lined up across from the rest of the group. Then, as each student took their turn, Wade offered them a card with a hand-drawn picture of a fruit or vegetable. They took the card and lined up behind the student with the corresponding part of the plant.
A visitor took a card.
“Hmm,” she said, looking at the drawing of the cucumber.
“It has seeds. It must be a fruit!” she said, as Wade affirmed her choice and she queued up in the correct line.
Nearby, another group of children made corn husk dolls. Lexy and Trinity showed off their dolls, while Jacob said he made two dolls: one for his mother, and one for his sister “who lives in Connecticut now, but she’s moving back next year,” Jacob explained.
Of the various collaborative games offered to students, the one that seemed to cause the most frenetic activity was the Recycling Relay Race, led by Windham Solid Waste Management District Outreach Educator Kristen Benoit.
“You know how you compost in the cafeteria?” Benoit asked the group. “We’re going to sort all of our trash into trash, recycling, and compost,” she explained.
Each group was divided into two teams, which competed to see who could sort a bin of trash into the proper receptacles the fastest, and with the most accuracy. Each student would run to the bins, choose an item — such as a plastic bag, an aluminum to-go container, a plastic french fry or lime — and throw it into the proper bin, then run back to tag the next team member who was tasked with doing the same thing.
To practice, Benoit held up items and quizzed the students on which bin it should end up in.
“This paper bag?” she asked, then answered, “it could be recycling or compost."
As she held up a milk carton, she asked the group where it should go.
“Compost!” the children screamed.
Benoit told The Commons she did not invent the game, but she “made all the stuff” for it.
“I tried to think of something active,” she said. “They’re kids. They want to be outside."
Tabachnick said the great thing about Benoit’s game is, the kids think they are playing a game, but they are really learning how to manage their trash.
He said the day’s event was the school’s biggest in the Farm and Field program. He said the program also sends students to visit the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center and the Keewaydin Canoe Camp in Salisbury.
Back home at NewBrook, the program helped incorporate composting into the cafeteria, and developed an extensive garden on school grounds.
“We’re hoping to get a greenhouse,” said School Board Chair Ken McFadden.
McFadden said the Board added an extra $1,000 this year to the school’s Farm and Field program.
“As long as I’m on the Board, [the Farm and Field program] is not getting cut from the budget,” he said. “You can’t go wrong with hands-on learning.”