By Francie Lin, GFN Writer-in-Residence I think everyone would rather forget the early pandemic days…
Our education programs are growing! This fall, the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) awarded Grow Food Northampton a contract to develop a “Local Food Champions” pilot program with state funding secured by Representative Peter Kocot. The funding allowed us to host MassLIFT-AmeriCorps member Caroline Rosa, who is leading the program. The goal of the Local Food Champions program is to ensure that all public elementary school students in Northampton (as well as smaller groups of students from nearby communities) have access to a multi-faceted set of educational opportunities that provide a hands-on understanding of:
- how local farms and food systems function;
- how to grow, prepare, and enjoy food;
- how healthy eating integrates with other healthy behaviors; and
- how community members of all incomes can access healthy, local food.
Already, Caroline has led 13 field trips for 24 public elementary classes, where over 450 students harvested turnips, radishes, and kale at Crimson & Clover Farm, learned about the seasonality of crops and farm work, and the importance of local food to their community. In 6 follow-up sessions in classrooms, Caroline led students in preparing seasonal dishes with the vegetables they harvested, getting a chance to taste healthy, local food they cooked themselves. Through these activities, they gained a deeper understanding of and appreciation for how food is produced and all that it takes to get food from seed to their plates.
Caroline is planning a series of workshops in classrooms and school gardens throughout the winter and spring, which will give students the chance to learn more about local food, sustainable agriculture, plant biology, and healthy eating. The curriculum in the spring will also address food access, hunger issues in our community, and ways we can work together to alleviate hunger. During spring field trips, which will also benefit from a grant from the Northampton Education Foundation, the students will help out in our Giving Garden, a program that grows produce to donate to local food pantries and meal sites. Expanded spring field trip options may include visits to our Tuesday Market and to help out at a meal site or food pantry.
We are partnering not only with the schools and teachers in the Northampton Public Schools and other local districts, but also with The Farm Education Collaborative and School Sprouts Educational Gardens in designing and delivering programming that implements best educational practices, integrates with statewide curricular frameworks, and enhances existing programming in school gardens. We hope this pilot will not only help Grow Food Northampton to develop partnerships and programming that can be sustained in the future, but that it will serve as a model for other communities where the school district and local organizations can adapt our work to their local food systems to provide similarly rich experiences for students. We are grateful to Rep. Kocot, DESE, Northampton Education Foundation, and the MassLIFT-Americorps program, for the resources that make this exciting pilot program possible.