Lessons among lettuce, classes by the chicken coop and sap collection in the schoolyard — the worlds of education and agriculture are being brought together by local organizations as they help facilitate connections between farms in the region and schools.
Peterborough-based nonprofit Cornucopia Project and Keene’s Stonewall Farm are partnering to form the Monadnock Region Farm to School Network, an initiative that will facilitate farm-to-school activities in the area, according to a news release.
The National Farm to School Network defines farm to school as a system that ”enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education sites.”
What exactly that enrichment might look like in the Monadnock Region will vary across schools, said Lauren Judd, executive director of Cornucopia Project. But at its base, farm to school comes down to three pillars: procurement (what kinds of foods are served in cafeterias), school gardens, and education in agriculture, food, health and nutrition.
Farm-to-school activities can take many forms, including connecting farms and schools to serve locally produced food in cafeterias, schools starting their own gardens, or children experiencing math and science lessons through an agricultural lens, Judd said.
The Monadnock Region Farm to School Network will help educators take the first steps in establishing these kinds of programs in their own schools.
“[We want to] create a platform to open up a whole host of resources,” Judd said.
Whether it’s serving healthier snacks in schools or bringing lessons to life in a new way, farm-to-school learning offers many benefits, Judd said.
“It’s just really fun,” she said, “[and] opens students up to what’s happening around them.” In addition to learning about agriculture, it also presents opportunities for students to learn about the local economy, she added.
As pandemic-related restrictions have prompted educators to consider how they might move lessons outdoors, Judd sees an opportunity to bring more farm-to-school practices into schools.
“The school garden is just a really great outdoor classroom area,” Judd said, adding that she wants to make sure teachers who are interested in starting gardens or incorporating aspects of agriculture into their lessons have easy access to the resources they need to develop effective curricula.
For now, though, the Monadnock Region Farm to School Network will focus largely on facilitating connections.
“Our goal, just starting off, is to bring people together,” said Rebecca Lancaster, Stonewall Farm’s education director. Stonewall Farm is an education nonprofit that highlights regenerative farming, ecological resilience and community building. The organization also offers a variety of education programs and camps for children of all ages.
Cornucopia Project has been working with schools for the past 15 years, according to a news release. The nonprofit helps schools establish gardens while offering learning opportunities at its Educational Farm, which is near ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough and tended by students.
The two organizations will work together to plan and host meetings to connect interested parties. Meetings will begin ahead of the 2021-22 school year, according to the news release.
Monadnock Region Farm to School Network is a branch of the New Hampshire Farm to School Network, which was born out of a University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute pilot program that brought New Hampshire-grown apples into school cafeterias across the state in 2003.
Private, public and charter schools are all welcome to join the network, Lancaster said, which will serve students from preschool through high school.
Anyone interested in the network can join the Facebook group or reach out to Cornucopia Project or Stonewall Farm. As the group grows, Lancaster hopes to have a range of farms, schools and organizations involved.
“The more interested parties, the more opportunities there are for educators to go in the direction their students are interested in,” she said.