Effective immediately, a new deeply discounted eSub.
AND for a limited time only, a special combination print and electronic subscription rate - for $37 U.S. we will send you both the print edition and an electronic edition for a year.
Effective immediately, a new deeply discounted eSub.
AND for a limited time only, a special combination print and electronic subscription rate - for $37 U.S. we will send you both the print edition and an electronic edition for a year.
Lise Hubbe of Scio, Oregon travelled to Evergreen State College and did a couple of days worth of demonstrations with her Belgian team. Many people were enthralled to hear her speak and watch her work. The Sustainable Farming at Evergreen features the oldest organic farm existing on a college campus. Photo by Paul Hunter
On August 1st Lynn Miller went to Evergreen State College in Olympia and visited the aquaponics research project of Jessica Schilke. The experiment entails recycling water through fish tanks and into a long tank featuring floating plant trays. Yellow Perch will be used. Miller is expecting to use parts of the interview in an upcoming installment of Farm Drum Radio as well as a transcription in an upcoming issue of SFJ. Photo by Paul Hunter. For more information visit Jessica Schilke’s website at www.greenaquaponics.org
To say we are small farmers is to say something very important. We are not miners. We are stewards. We are not users. We are husbands. We practise farming methods which retain water and build soils. We embrace low impact approaches to working because of the smaller ‘footprint’ but also because it suits our economy. We don’t poison. We refresh. We harvest with hand and eye and we distribute the same way. We walk our fields and gardens and ‘look’ at them and into them because we want to know them. And we want to know that land because from the knowledge come the right answers to problems and opportunities. We are not factory workers. We are shepherds. We are not tacticians or economists or efficiency experts. We are parents, lovers, artists, and gardeners. We are not landscape architects. We are the landscape. We are not theologians. We are the religion. We are not destroying the planet we are healing her. We are small farmers. – LM
Diversified small farming offers breathing spaces, days and weeks that may serve to set the blossoms and sweeten the rhythms of the year. Waiting times between one crop and another, one planting, tilling or harvest and the next. Times you might depend on to get the mower lubed and sharpened, times when you’ll find the leisure to do a good job on that head gasket or those brakes. Times you might remember to scout that other path which is why you craved to be your own boss in the first place. Time to bang out that next chapter on the novel, or locate a source for those calves you’ll want to feed in the fall, or find a few odd moments to work out the harmonies to that new tune on the fiddle. Every life needs such quiet interludes, such way stations at intervals that may expand or contract, yet help keep us afloat, complete and at ease with our larger fuller selves. Farming is not in competition with those other impulses, and allows us to mingle meaningful work and occasional play without worrying the process overmuch. Paul Hunter
Remove a splinter easily (especially on small kids) by applying a paste of baking soda and water to the spot, then waiting ten to twenty minutes for the splinter to begin pushing its way out of the skin. Till you can grab its “handle” with your tweezers. With kids you can use a bandaid to help them leave it alone while the baking soda works. Often this will do the trick without undue digging and pain. — PH
PLEASE have a look at our many books and products and see if there’s something there to suit you. When you shop on this site you help to keep this publication and community vital and alive. Thanks. LM
The news trickles down to us in a predictably confusing warp and weave: the latest incarnation of a federal farm bill has been “hot-potatoed” into something the US senate passed. Now the Congress is asked to get it through its mill before mid September – this on the heals of a House leadership which says, openly, that it wants to see how it fits in the shifting winds of this political season. On the surface, people we normally side with say this bill is a good thing. Deeper down, we have enough experience with this process to know it is nigh on impossible even for the experts to assess how such complicated legislative stuff can ever be fully understood until its seen in messy action.
Meanwhile the consequences of inaction are millions of starving children worldwide and lost opportunities to get good, prepared and willing people back on productive small farms. It is hard not to be ashamed of what humanity has made of political expediency. This “stuff” , the very workings of government, doesn’t work.
You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big, so also are our governments and our committee-molested collective assumptions. Get small real soon. LRM
PLANET EARTH does not belong to corporate interests, nor to governments, nor to the fashionable collective conscience of the moment. She belongs to herself, with a delicate but critical nod to biological life – all of it! Humans have taken for themselves a temporary leasehold on the planet. Somehow that was allowed over these last 100 years to slough off to the corporate boardrooms. This is not a good thing.
To earn the right to continue living on this planet, we need to find simple, direct solutions to human interaction with all other forms of biological life. We need to find ways that our time on this planet is beneficial for all. Wresting control of the land, air and sea from corporate interests is vitally important. It can start by accepting as axiomatic that every one should have a piece of land to care for. And by ‘every one’ we are speaking of individual human beings. LRM
“There is so much war in the world, evil has so many faces, the plough has so little honor, the laborers are taken, the fields untended and the curving sickle is beaten into the sword that yields not.” – Vergil, the Georgics
Another bedrock proposition is that farmland is open, vulnerable, so needs protection against human marauders and predators. Farming on a sustainable, caring scale presupposes a society that does not let bandits and paramilitary groups roam at large, taking what they please. And farming needs protection from upwind and upstream influences that pollute soil and water. PH
Nature’s balance shuffles in predation and disaster to hold the mix. Since the inception of the industrial age, man falsely believed he had no predator to fear save other men but such has not been the case. Man created artificial lives we know as corporations and computers and both have been eating away at the hearts and souls of people for a very long while. Corporations have all but dissolved human culpability. Within the next few decades we will no longer be at immediate fault. And computers have eaten away the range and elasticity of the human mind. Soon “thought” will be a curiosity of the past. Humans are devolving into a vegetable form. The question of the age? Can we put those two, computers and corporations, back in the can?
The planet is trying not to die. It is struggling against the destructive and denuding human foot print. There are horrible paradoxes in all of this. There are also magical and healing paradoxes plain to see.
Wresting the control of the land, sea and air from industry and placing it all in the “care” of individuals to steward this environment with a goal of increasing fertility, biological diversity, and healthfulness – this is what can and will save the earth. Sweet paradox: taking a step backwards towards the empowerment of the individual WILL result in the only sure step forward to save human life on earth. LRM
Some would argue that the U.S. is slipping into a third world status, forfeiting its position as world leader. We might reasonably ask “world leader” in what regard? When it comes to questions of world hunger, environmental degradation, and appropriate farming the U.S.A. has been woefully behind the curve for decades.
What the world needs NOW, today, are millions of new small farmers enjoying independence of operation and having the opportunity to employ the full range of intriguing, exciting, vital and fertile new approaches to intensive agricultural pursuit. YES, you can farm. YES, you should farm. YES, we need you farming TODAY! LRM
A Matter of a Raincoat
The difference between farmers and other people is not just a matter of a raincoat. It’s not just how they watch the weather reports and seasonal changes with care. Farmers have to act on the conditions they see, and live with the consequences of their actions. You could say they don’t have to if they have crop insurance, which the large-scale operators do, courtesy of the federal government, but in the long run there is no crop insurance. The big picture is made up of accumulated good guesses and bad guesses. Like the hot dog vendor outside the ballpark, who has to know how many hot dogs to have on hand, and how many to cook in time to make any difference when the rush comes, before and after the game. That’s how you make a living. Inside the ball park with a captive audience forced to wait in line to buy a dog at inflated prices, or curb their hunger, with the game blaring all around, it’s a different story, with less risk and more profit to be shared more ways with a large and assertive management. One thing about scale: it makes you either an insider or an outsider, and defines how you get to play the game. – PH
By most informed estimates there are in excess of one billion disenfranchised people on this planet who would jump at the chance to join the ranks of small farmers. As for the natural resources required? Industrial agriculture and suburban development are “wasting” millions of acres of the most productive farmlands. While The U.S. government (to name but one failed example) is paying out billions of dollars to agribusiness to NOT grow certain commodities, this ostensibly to protect prices. Meanwhile children starve and capable grownups are at a loss for what to do without work and purpose. Shame on us. Time to right the ship. LRM
“Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm—which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commercial fertilizer. The genius of American farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems.” — Wendell Berry
The psychology of raising a monocrop seems to be that with only one thing to look at, the farmer becomes a specialist, and presumably with fewer different things to watch will get more efficient, will become more like an executive as he tweaks the inputs of GMO seed, herbicides and pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and sophisticated irrigation, and the fuel and maintenance for massive planting and harvest equipment. Yet what happens to such an agribusinessman is often stultifying and frustrating in the extreme. Again the “efficiencies” are invoked, and again the farmer is led to work in a narrowly accepted way, largely to optimize a monocrop for which he receives an artificially low price at season’s end. We refer to this as the “commodification” of crops, the removal from thinking of corn or soybeans as foods to be eaten, where these crops become part of an industrial process that can as easily create fast foods or fuels or lampshades or seatcovers out of what is essentially treated as an anonymous raw material produced for the absolute least cost to the industries that depend on it. In this scenario the farmer has no standing except as he negotiates the tight squeeze between “inputs” and “outcomes”—between what it costs him in seed, fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, fuel and equipment, and his yield per acre.
What is left out of the equation is what we might call the aesthetics and ethics of farming. How to do it sustainably and well, without passing on the costs of fertilizer runoff or soil degradation to the surrounding watershed community that we loosely refer to as the environment and to future generations, of not just our species but of all living species. It is the nature of economics as practiced by American business to try to externalize as many costs as possible, to dump undesirable byproducts and waste onto the commons, into the waters and lands downstream and downwind, where the tab will be picked up by the public. Yet increasingly there is no “away” to throw undesirable leftovers. These byproducts need to be accepted and paid for as part of the cost of doing business. PH
People on every side of the food equation, good people, all disagreeing about what is happening, what needs protecting, what needs to cease, what needs to be done. And most all of those folks base their beliefs on some sort of ground zero premise or axiom, something they see as indisputable, a starting point that they believe we must all agree on. Such as; small farms CAN feed the world – or - small farms CANNOT feed the world. I say we need to go back further, back to something no feeling caring human being can dispute. I say we go to a true ground zero premise. Here’s my vote; I say we can and must agree on this…
Now, let’s take that premise and work up from there. Today, Industrial agriculture is NOT feeding all the children of the world. Small independent farms spred across the entire populated blanket of the planet can and will feed all of those children, and they’ll do it while restoring the environment and rebuilding biological diversity. But we’ll have to find ways to help. Here’s another premise as goal…
Now our job is to find the ways to make those two points stick and all else will follow suit. LRM
What do quinoa, hazelnuts, amaranth, asparagus, artichokes and apples have in common? They’re all perennials-which means you don’t have to plant them each year, you don’t have to disturb the soil so much, or risk losing nutrients. Such crops need vigilance and care of a different kind, since they’re stuck in place season after season. There are plant biologists who have long been working on perennial varieties of wheat, rice, rye and other staple crops, (ask Wes Jackson!) not to beat industrial agriculture’s astonishing yields, which are pumped up by synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, but to strike a lasting balance with the soil’s fertility. The essence of sustainability. If you don’t grow any perennials, it may be time to try some, to round out your knowledge of different plant strategies for dealing with pests and seasonal variables. Your toolkit will include pruning and mulching and planting certain varieties near each other, to keep the pollinators coming around. PH
Small farming means small fields and more variety, means more edges and more ’tooth’ for other lives, means more sharing or competition, depending on how you choose to look at it. Means an enforced modesty of expectations and outcomes. Means paradoxically a lower cost of living for everyone in the neighborhood, spread more widely around. PH
“We have assumed that there is no obligation to an inanimate thing, as we consider the earth to be: but man should respect the conditions in which he is placed; the earth yields the living creature; man is a living creature; science constantly narrows the gulf between the animate and the inanimate, between the organized and the unorganized; evolution derives the creatures from the earth; the creation is one creation. I must accept all or reject all.” – Liberty Hyde Bailey (circa 1913)
We got the word just a few days ago that the World Bank and aspects of the United Nations agriculture projects are embracing the notion that the ONLY way to feed the world in the immediate and distant future is with a global network of healthy small independent farms. ‘Bout time. Next thing they need to realize is that the way forward requires we unearth that mountain of accumulated agrarian wisdom and knowledge which governments and industry have worked so hard to burn and bury. We need to unearth it, dust it off, round those corners that need rounding and allow farmers to get their hands on it. People are going to need to know how their particular soil and weather will work with the chosen crops and livestock. And they need that information RIGHT NOW. That’s our job here, with Small Farmer’s Journal. LRM
“Every event that a man would master must be mounted on the run, and no man ever caught the reins of a thought except as it galloped past him.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
We cover three or four miles a day in the neighborhood. I call it walking the dog, but we walk each other, take turns as we dawdle, mope and gawk. For weeks I’ve been watching some raised beds go in on a planter strip alongside a church. They’re on a side street and I don’t know what denomination it is, what the sign says out front, who attends there, what their socio-economic status might be. I don’t know because I never looked. The one thing I know is that whoever put in these raised beds did it right, and that this vegetable growing enterprise, these walled patches of dirt, speak well of them. Like that bumper sticker of the Mormons back in the late 60s, that asked “Have you hugged your kid today?”
These boxes of dirt are not overcrowded, yet there is diversity. Four kinds of tomatoes, several varieties of peppers, two different kinds of cabbages, a row of beets and a couple of artichokes. There is no lettuce, no greens, so the gardener will probably not be tending and picking every day. And one other clue: the beds are heavily mulched with old grass clippings, to hold and save water around the plants.
Studying how it’s coming together, I never catch anyone working there, and don’t know who to thank, but feel the urge to thank someone anyhow. Maybe it’s the custodian, maybe the minister, maybe the Sunday School teacher and her class, maybe it’s a project of the board of governors for this parish, or some parish volunteers. Whoever is responsible, they didn’t bother to put up a sign or take credit. Yet the people coming to church or just passing by all know that local food is important to one neighbor here, and has found a home. PH
Hi Lynn and SFJ crew,
We had a great time at the auction 2012.
I am sending these photos to put in a plug for Marvin Brisk in Halfway Or.
He built the cultimulcher that you see here. The implement is especially good at tilling up a very nice seed bed, fallowing for weed control, and breaking up clods. The undercut front roller set up allows you to turn on a dime, which is great for working in hoop houses. We pull it with two to three horses depending on the conditions. If you are farming, you have to have one!
Walt Bernard, Dorena Or
TICK REMOVAL: especially good for places where it’s hard to get tweezers—between toes, in the middle of your hair or the middle of your back. Apply a glob of liquid soap to a cotton ball. Cover the tick with the soap-soaked cotton ball, and swab it for 15-20 seconds. The tick will come away on its own and be stuck to the cotton ball when you lift it off. Just be sure you’re not allergic to the kind of liquid soap you’re using. PH
The farm to school movement is taking root all across the US. From simple beginnings with just a dozen or so programs in the early 90’s, there are now farm to school programs in almost 10,000 schools in 48 states – with new efforts sprouting up each month. These programs take different forms in different places. Some focus on sourcing local farm food for the school cafeteria, some on nutrition, garden and food education, and others on building strong community connections between local farmers and producers and the school community. However, all aim to re-connect school kids with healthy local food to improve their diets, strengthen their understanding of where their food comes from, and support local agriculture.
Vermont has been a farm to school pioneer, with a long history of engagement and partnership by farmers, school leaders, non-profit organizations, state agencies and local businesses. Farm to school in Vermont often advances a comprehensive agenda, working to integrate local food and farms into the cafeteria, classroom and community – or the “three C’s.” Around Vermont, various regional groups have emerged to work together around these goals and support the more than 200 schools (out of 320 in the state) with farm to school efforts.
Following is a series of three articles that describe farm to school efforts from different vantage points. All three authors live in Hartland, Vermont.
By Stephen Leslie—Horse-powered market gardener and dairy farmer from Hartland, Vermont
At Cedar Mountain Farm we have been hosting school groups for more than a decade. In recent years many of these visits have been under the auspices of the Farm to School Program. As a farm that utilizes work horses we have the opportunity to bring a unique aspect to these visits. Over the years we have come up with a list of practical tasks suitable for third grade students. Several of the projects we have developed are centered on the theme of partnering the kids with our work horses. We feel that the students will have a meaningful and memorable experience on the farm if they are engaged in getting a real job done and especially so when horses are involved. We have created a few scenarios in which the kids and the work horses each carry a piece of the same task.
We begin by introducing the children to the horses and letting them have an opportunity to help groom them and pick out their feet. We then answer questions and discuss the reasons we have work horses on our farm to do jobs that are normally done these days with a tractor. Often these discussions touch on such issues as the growing scarcity of oil and the environmental costs of relying on fossil fuel powered farm machinery. We present our use of horses in positive terms as an enjoyable alternative to farming with tractors, but I am often surprised at how remarkably conscious even the third graders already are of the challenges we face to live more sustainably on the planet.
In the fall the children help us to harvest and box up the winter squash. We talk beforehand about how long the squash will need to keep and the importance of handling it gently (no tossing) and carefully sorting it into the wax boxes according to kind. The teachers and volunteer parents and the farmers all handle the nippers and the children shuttle the fruits. They seem to delight in the hide and seek game of finding the squash amid all the foliage and they are amazed at the quantity of boxed fruits we have at the end of the morning’s session. Estimating the number of pieces and weight for each and all the boxes makes for some fine honing of math skills in the field.
On the next visit we have the kids help to broadcast winter rye over the now empty squash field. Each child receives a 2 gallon pail full of seed. A farm worker shows them how to throw out the seed in a wide swath. They start in a line at one end and work their way down the field. Next the kids return their buckets to the barn and gather round to watch the work horses getting harnessed and hitched to the disc harrows. Everyone then proceeds back to the field, where the children stand with the adults in a designated area and watch as the horses pull the disc to cover the seed that they have sown. Often, many of the students will have taken riding lessons, and some even have saddle horses at home, most of the kids will have been to a fair or farm that offers wagon rides. But for the majority of these kids this will be the first time they will have seen horses doing real work on a farm. When the students return for a farm visit in the spring we show them the verdant stand of rye that they helped to grow with the work horses.
As spring time rolls around we get the children involved in planting the market garden. When it is a question of having a school bus full of eight year olds helping to plant—a seed potato proves to be just about the right size. For the past several years the two third grade classes from our local elementary school have helped us to plant potatoes. Keeping the kids focused and engaged is always the challenge and a big part of that is giving them a job that is fun. It is also important that the task be something they can reasonably handle and see through to completion.
Before the school bus arrives we already have the rows marked out; 18 rows at 200’ with 32” spacing between the rows. As the kids watch from a safe distance, we hitch our trusty old mare to an antique single horse plow with a 10” bottom and we open up the furrows. Once we have the first several furrows established we set the kids up with planting. Each child is given a 1’ measure stick and a 2 gallon pail full of seed potatoes. Then all are instructed on how to set the seed in a straight line in the bottom of the furrow so that the stick fits in between each spud. An adult stands ready at the end of the rows with the sacks of seed potatoes ready to give the kids refills as needed. Other adults work alongside the children. Once all the seed potatoes are set out, the kids, the farmers, the teachers, and the attendant parents, all pitch in with rakes and hoes to make sure all the seed gets covered with soil.
Once the potatoes are up a good six to eight inches the kids come back to help with the first hilling. We start out by hitching up the mare to a single-horse cultivator to loosen up the soil in the rows. As soon as we have a few rows worked up, the kids come in with the hoes and begin to draw the dirt in towards the bases of the plants. This is a big job. A few of these children are farm kids and no strangers to hard work, but most others of them may never have been asked to do a tough physical job before in their young lives. By pulling together in partnership; the kids and the horses, the teachers, parents and farmers, we all get the task done.
The following school year these same kids will return to the farm as fourth graders to help harvest some of the potatoes that they planted with their own hands. They are accompanied in this task by the classes of new third graders who are just beginning their own Farm to School experience. Some of the potatoes that the children harvest will be served in the school cafeteria. And so a cycle is completed and we hope that these seeds which have been planted will last a lifetime.
By Amy Richardson; dairy farmer, mother, agricultural education consultant and advocate from Hartland, VT.
My kids began their lives on our farm. From babyhood my sons have been alongside my husband and me throughout each farm year. Much of their early schooling has happened here. We witness birth, death, and growing up between. We work on the land as different seasons allow for various agricultural pursuits. My husband and I have farmed together for nearly twenty years, on his family place of more than a century. As we raise our family here, we continue to see the multitude of opportunities a farm can provide as an educational resource.
The farm to school movement has been growing in popularity and momentum here in my home state of Vermont, for more than a decade. My involvement began in my county also over ten years ago, after our eldest son began attending elementary school. At that time it became apparent to me that there were only a few minor connections between the local school and local farming sector. I joined NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) VT as a farm to school and community consultant in my county. Presently there are nine such individuals working across the fourteen counties of Vermont. The farm to school resources, interests, and possibilities vary among the regions of the state. Some of our programs are offered statewide, while others grow out of specific requests and desires of certain people and communities.
Today, Vermont is in the midst (perhaps even in the forefront) of a growing movement to reinvigorate farm to school connections in the northeast. This renaissance is taking numerous forms. Many schools across the Green Mountain State are purchasing locally grown, seasonal foods to serve in cafeterias. Furthermore, some schools and community groups are growing, harvesting, processing, and serving food from gardens on school grounds, nearby farms, or community maintained plots. A number of VT schools have built and use greenhouses as classrooms. Many also have composting programs that have been proven as successful tools for education, and production of useable soil, for years.
In my own county where agriculture was once one of the most common livelihoods, the dwindling number of farmers are very often eager to develop a relationship with students, and community groups. Many farmers that I work with have been willing to host student visits to their farms, or come to a school to share their own knowledge and stories through structured Farm Day celebrations. Farmers in my region have been instrumental in supporting taste tests of seasonal foods in schools, hands on farm related activities, as well as composting, greenhouse, and sugarhouse projects.
One specific program that NOFA VT has instituted statewide over the last five years, is a pen pal arrangement between farmers and classrooms. The farmers writes actual letters every other month throughout an entire school year. The program only requires the farmer write/type on paper and send via postal service. Otherwise the content, length, and any enclosures are of the farmers choice. The classroom is required to write back once – as a group, or individually. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from both sides. Farmers are appreciative of a forum to share their expertise, and personal style. Students are eager to ask questions, offer ideas, and appreciate the intimate connection to a real farmer. In recent years NOFA VT has used grant funding to support field trips to the farms participating as pen pals, so students can meet the farmer who has been writing to them. The last school year involved several dozen farmers and several hundred students across most of Vermont.
Another enriching program found here in Windsor county has been a farm to school partnership between Hartland third and fourth graders and Cedar Mountain Farm. This relationship is somewhat unique, and is a great example of the variety of ways that farmers and schools show interest in working together. Two years ago when my youngest son was in third grade, the class visited this local farm every month of the school year. In the fall students harvested root crops, and planted cover crops. They washed the veggies then brought them back for the cafeteria to use. During the winter the kids focused on animal care, by assisting with cow, horse, chicken, sheep, and pig chores. Come spring the class was back out in the fields watching the horses plow, then planting alongside the farmers. At the beginning of fourth grade my son’s class was able to show the new third grade what was planted, how to harvest, and help with livestock for the school year to come. My son was thrilled with the whole experience. As a farm kid, he had a rare chance to show his familiarity with all the goings on around a farm. This gave him great pride and made his parents laugh to hear his enthusiastic stories of completing similar chores to those on our farm, but somehow better on a different farm! This arrangement between farm and specific grades has been successful because of teacher interest and input, connection to curriculum structure, and accessibility and interest of the farmers.
There must be some truth to the notion that time flies when you are having fun. Whether farming or raising a family, my time is spent doing work, and interacting with people that I find inspiring, enriching, fulfilling, and fun. The farm to school ideas feel natural to me. In some ways it is like getting back to basics, while taking steps toward simplicity and sustainability. Children are the ideal ambassadors of progress. Our state is small but determined. Data now shows that roughly 2/3 of Vermont schools have some sort of farm to school program in place. Young people can get excited about eating local, seasonal food; meeting and interacting with farmers; and visiting farms to see a vibrant, wholesome career choice. Farming is a way to share lessons about life-cycles and family, seasons and land use, with students of all ages who will likely remember these for a long time to come.
By Peter Allison, Director of the Upper Valley Farm to School Network (www.uvfts.org)
Unlike Amy and Stephen, my farm to school (FTS) roots are not that deep. I am not a farmer and I didn’t grow up on farms. Nor am I a teacher or a food service professional, which are other common points of entry into this field.
My start with FTS began in 2007 when the Hartland Elementary School received one of the first FTS grants from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. I had moved to the state a couple years earlier with my wife and two sons, and was working as an independent environmental consultant. Someone forwarded me a notice for a part-time position to coordinate the new farm to school program at our local school. I applied for the position thinking it would be a good way to create a connection with my kid’s school, and learn more about farms. I got the position, really enjoyed the work and saw lots of potential for how it can help kids and farms, and I’ve been hooked on FTS ever since.
I should note that since moving to Vermont I do now live on a farm, or collection of farming enterprises, at Cobb Hill co-housing (www.cobbhill.org). Cobb Hill is home to Cedar Mountain Farm (the dairy and vegetable market garden run by Stephen and his wife Kerry, with help from their four-year old daughter), and other operations that make cheese, raise sheep, pigs and chickens, keep bees and make maple syrup. I participate in some of these operations as a volunteer or “partner”, but I cannot claim to be a farmer. I don’t depend on the farm for my income and there are (thankfully for them) no animals that depend on me for their care and survival.
My charge as FTS coordinator was to identify monthly agricultural themes, and build a program that involved farm visits, displays in the school foyer, classroom activities, taste tests and cafeteria offerings related to those themes. Some of the themes were maple syrup, early greens, dairy products, root vegetables, grains, berries, fall harvest and so on.
We visited local farms, cheese makers and sugar houses, tasted raw carrots, celeriac and beets (with and without ranch dressing!), made our own granola, installed gardens and a small hand-me-down hoop house, grew some crops at the new community garden in town, made bicycle-powered smoothies with local yogurt and berries, and made lots and lots of salsa. (See www.hartlandfarm2school.org for the story of the World Famous HES Salsa!)
During that first year of working with teachers, farmers and our food service staff I realized that there were a lot of great opportunities to connect local food with our school, and also a lot of interest on the part of all participants. But there were also a lot of challenges. It can be difficult for farmers to take time out of their long day to host a group of kids, questions about liability insurance in case a student got hurt, and a challenge to arrange transportation. Teachers are under tremendous demands to make sure they fulfill all their curricular requirements and get kids ready for “the tests” – given our national obsession with not leaving kids behind! And, food and farm education doesn’t always seem relevant to the three R’s at first glance. Food service staff often have tight budgets, over-worked staff, inadequate equipment to process local food (rather than the pre-packed stuff that can be opened and warmed), limited storage space and sometimes are not familiar using odd-size funny looking seasonal produce – with dirt on it. Oh, and the staff in charge of keeping the school yard neat are quick to point out that schools are not in session when school gardens need the most care (water and weeding), an ironic vestige of the days when kids were needed on the farm during the summer.
I ran across a few other FTS coordinators in our region and around Vermont at a forum for other grant recipients. We soon realized that we were all facing similar challenges, and could benefit from ongoing communication and support. Looking for a way to scale-up my new found passion, and drawing on my past experiences in community organizing, consulting and project management, I launched the Upper Valley Farm to School Network (www.uvfts.org) in 2008. The Upper Valley region includes about 70 communities along the Connecticut River, half in Vermont and the remainder in New Hampshire. While Vermont has been a national FTS leader, New Hampshire efforts have lagged for a variety of cultural and political reasons. Part of the mission of UVFTS is to help spread the farm to school lessons to our neighbors across the river.
I was able to get some seed funding from a local health foundation, and started looking for parents, administrators, teachers, food service staff and parents in surrounding communities that were interested in advancing farm to school programs in their school communities. I met with people in the schools to identify their interests, and also take time to recognize current efforts and assets at the schools around which a farm to school program could be built.
Some schools already had gardens, and one had an indoor greenhouse (that was used to store books). Others had teachers, parents or other staff that were very interested in farming or had farming backgrounds. Some schools took regular farm field trips or conducted class activities related to food and farm themes. And there were a number of cafeteria staff who already bought some local corn, or potatoes or greens in season from local farmers – often unbeknown to the staff and kids who ate them. The goal was to celebrate and promote what was already working and build on that base to take the next step.
Given my lack of knowledge of farming, teaching and the complex world of school food service, it was imperative to create forums where peers in these professions could meet, share information and support each other. The UVFTS does this through regular workshops and other forums on topics of interest to teachers, FTS leaders and food service, an email newsletter and website that highlight successes in member schools, and opportunities and resources that we want to know about.
As we enter our fourth school year, we are excited about the growing number of schools with FTS programs, farms interested in selling food to schools and helping demonstrate farming work and life to students, teachers open to integrating food and farm themes into their classrooms – because they see the connection with local food and farms as a means of moving our kids forward and not so worried about keeping them from being left behind.