On a sunny afternoon last month, I visited NewBrook Elementary School for a field day celebration of their food-based curriculum. Mixed aged teams, Kindergarten through sixth grade, rotated through different stations on the school grounds. I followed Team Tomato around the course.
Our first stop was at a picnic table covered with a map of the world; a geography lesson ensued, where the kids read stickers on fruit and packaged food, then located where in the world the apples, seaweed and chocolate came from.
Next came an obstacle course, with butternut squash for bowling pins, and an egg-and-spoon relay. After that, students tasted six varieties of apples and describe d them; older kids helped younger, pre-literate ones write descriptive words.
Another station offered sweet cider and tangy fermented vegetables for a discussion about the biology of taste, the chemistry of fermentation, and the history of food preservation.
At the art station, students glued ceramic shards to the mosaic garden sign that will hang at the entrance to the school garden.
Near the garden, the team’s task was to harvest worm castings and prepare new bedding, where the worms will process this year’s school compost. Some kids added journal entries from the point-of-view of the worms.
Finally, we came to the construction site of a wood-fired, community pizza oven. The kids’ gleefully helped mix cement, sand and straw by working collaboratively, rolling the mixture in a large tarp for the three community volunteers to use building the oven.
The day was a celebration of NewBrook’s Farm to School program, which makes food the center of a school-wide curriculum, learning with, from, and about food. Its success here and at about seventy other schools across the state is stunning, on many levels.
First, there’s nothing quite so basic as food, and the farm-to-school program helps schools and communities build connections between agriculture and new generations of Vermonters.
Reading, writing and arithmetic around food cover the elementary school fundamentals. Growing food segues into plant biology, soil science, and conservation. Farming in Vermont leads to social, cultural and political history. And making art from nature develops skills of awareness, observation and aesthetic appreciation. The fifth and sixth graders even engineered a mechanical seed planter, adjustable for spacing different kinds of seeds.
There’s no question that not only are the students enthused by learning from food, but so are the NewBrook teachers, who work collaboratively and creatively on lesson plans.
And the program does more than educate our children. The Farm to School program reaches into the community. Volunteers from local farms, businesses, and interested citizens helped school parents and teachers celebrate this day and build the pizza oven for future community meals.
At a time when financial concerns can overshadow the principles that make public education imperative, feeding taxpayers a delicious meal could bolster support for local education. Breaking bread in a celebration of mutual nourishment of young minds and the body politic certainly appeals to me.