Leland & Gray chosen for farm-to-school participation

Program expected to help students learn more about what they eat and how it affects them

TOWNSHEND — Going back to school at Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School this year will mean going back to basics as students focus on learning more about where their food comes from and what healthy eating habits look like.

After a competitive application process, Leland & Gray was among nine Northeastern school teams selected to be part of the Northeast Farm to School Institute in the 2023-24 school year.

Katie Morrison works for Food Connects as a Farm to School coach for Leland & Gray and other area schools. She and others from the school attended an intensive workshop at Shelburne Farms Institute for Sustainable Schools this summer.

"Farm to school is a program that works with students to learn about where their food comes from and teaches them about healthy eating habits," Morrison says. "Farm to school programs are structured around the three Cs: classroom, cafeteria, and community, which means we try to incorporate nutrition and food systems education into all three of these areas."

She describes the bulk milk program as "a great way to provide students with a healthy, local milk option while also connecting them to a local dairy farm."

"As a coach, I support schools' farm-to-school programs in whatever way they need help - which can look very different at each school," Morrison says.

Support, she says, can include helping write grants to get funding for school gardens or a farm-to-school coordinator, helping farm-to-school teams set goals and stay on task, helping plan community events such as harvest dinners, and more.

Recent Farm to School activities by adult team members include attending the Farm to School Institute, establishing a school garden, participating in the state's Local Foods Incentive Grant, and incorporating farm-to- school concepts into Leland and Gray's project-based learning curriculum.

In the kitchen and the garden

Food Service Director Jacob "Jake" Gallogly is in his second year at the school in that post, and he's excited about the program.

He serves free breakfast and lunch daily for every student at Leland & Gray. "We will also be serving supper for any students involved in after-school activities," he adds.

Gallogly says about 80% of meals are prepared "completely from scratch."

The other 20% are considered "fast scratch," in that they contain some pre-made items, such as tater tots, pastries, or chicken tenders.

"At this point, it's safe to say 20% of our food is locally procured," says the director. "All of our beef, eggs, potatoes, flour, and dairy come from Vermont. We are making the switch to Miller Farm milk [from Vernon] later this year."

While students aren't involved in daily meal preparation or buying products, they are involved in planning and maintaining the garden, where salad bar produce for lunch is grown.

Gallogly says this year he's planning on holding a Vermont Junior Iron Chef team, too.

The school also plans to launch Journey Away next spring. That's a semester-long program exploring food and culture in Vermont, Louisiana, Vietnam, and France.

Teacher Jessa Harger is director of the Journey Away program, which she calls "an experiential semester course" wherein students can earn humanities, math, and science credits "while exploring food system and culture."

"We will look how food is farmed, distributed, and consumed and learn how landscapes and history shape food culture and systems," says Harger.

The program

As described on its website, Shelburne Farms Institute for Sustainable Schools "is expanding its farm to school professional learning program nationwide, hosting teams from Kansas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Rhode Island as they adapt a Vermont-born model - the Northeast Farm to School Institute - to strengthen food systems education and local purchasing in their states."

Since 2010, the year-long Northeast Farm to School Institute has built enduring farm-to-school programs in more than 130 schools, districts, and early childhood programs, according to a post on the site by Sarah Webb, the nonprofit's communications manager.

More than half of U.S. children - nearly 30 million students - get daily nutrition from school meals.

Schools spend more than $6.3 billion on food, and the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture's national Farm to School Census estimates $1.26 billion was spent on local foods in 2019. Since the onset of the pandemic, an increasing number of children are relying on school food for their daily nutritional needs and schools are feeding more students.

The Northeast Farm to School Institute model, created by Vermont FEED (Food Education Every Day), helps school and early childhood teams - which include classroom teachers, nutrition staff members, administrators, community partners, and others - create action plans "to build a school culture of wellness," Webb writes.

She quotes Vermont FEED Project Director Betsy Rosenbluth: "It's such a great opportunity to make lasting and systemic change in schools, early childhood programs, and food systems, not just in the Northeast, but across the country, so that kids can eat and connect with fresh local foods, farmers can serve their local communities, and those communities can become more resilient."

"Through hands-on learning, students can connect the dots about where their food comes from and the impacts of their choices on their bodies, the environment, and the local food system and community," Webb says.

This News item by Virginia Ray was written for The Commons.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates