Regardless of your age or income, everywhere you turn in this town there is an opportunity to learn about and enjoy the benefits of local, homegrown food. In our sweet little corner of Vermont, there are so many people using their passion to ensure that our community is the healthiest it can be and to promote the connection between people and their food, including farmers, educators, non-profit leaders, the business community, neighbors and more.
My 6-year-old, Nina recently brought home one of her "important papers" which was information on signing up for a new food buying club at her school. This opportunity is brought to local families by Food Connects (formerly called Windham County Farm to School, a program of Post Oil Solutions) in partnership with Windham Farm and Food. Very simply, consumers order fresh, locally grown produce and other items like yogurt, bagels and cheese directly from farmers and producers, then Food Connects serves as a middle-man, delivering the order to the school every other week.
We signed right up and with our first delivery, I took the opportunity to discuss the magic of what just happened with Nina. We talked about the difference between a vegetable that travels across the country versus one that was grown in a neighboring town. She was perceptive, so I brought a little economics into the conversation. We talked about organic versus conventional produce and though sometimes organic food can cost more, this direct-from-the-farmer option meant we could more easily afford it.
While many people may be aware of the Farm to School concept and its many positive impacts on students at the primary and secondary schools, perhaps less well known is that Windham County now has a Farm to Preschool Program. Earlier this year, Windham Child Care Association received a grant to create this program. As a primary resource for child care programs looking to improve the quality of the care they offer, it was a natural fit for WCCA to be the local host of this national initiative. The goal of Farm to Preschool is to support child care programs in their work to provide children with healthy, local foods and an understanding of where our food comes from. We do this by offering workshops to support early educators to grow food and create gardens with children and to provide sensory explorations and cooking activities that expose children to healthy vegetables. The program also provides technical assistance and financial support for gardening with children. It’s a new and exciting service offered by WCCA and we’re excited for the potential for growth.
I see the importance of this in action at my daughter’s preschool. They have a gorgeous garden. The children are involved through the whole process and I am ever so grateful that this experience is embedded in their lives during their most formative years. They plant the seeds, tend the garden, feed the compost, and help themselves to the harvest. They are discovering new foods to love and being introduced to early concepts of science and nutrition. All of the children enjoy the garden, but one boy in particular appreciated it so much that he inspired his family to create a garden at home. I talked to his mother about it and she told me how she’d pick him up from school and every day, he’d bring her to the garden where she noticed a sense of calm come over him. Seeing him in such a peaceful state, she knew she wanted to create the same environment at home. "I’m 39 years old and I just stared my first garden," she said to me with a laugh. I thought that was incredible.
Recently, I attended a Hunger Council of Windham County meeting. This open meeting is every other month and is hosted by the United Way. It’s growing membership welcomes any individual, organization, or business that is motivated to help all community members have access to affordable and healthy foods. Representatives from local food pantries, Vermont Food Connects, the Vermont Foodbank, Post Oil Solutions, local shelters and other human service agencies come together to network, share ideas and encouragement and seek ways to work together address food insecurity in our area.
Because of the time of year, much of the conversation at this particular meeting steered towards the Project Feed the Thousands effort - an initiative that collects food (and cash) donations, primarily during November and December, and distributes it to food banks across the county. I left with the idea to coordinate a donation box at my work as well my daughter’s preschool. I went back my desk and inquired via email. Within 36 hours, a donation bin was delivered to the school with flyers for parents and a plan in place for when the box would be picked up. Project Feed the Thousands is a well-oiled machine that I encourage any business or organization to take advantage of (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Naturally, the importance of healthy and affordable food is of critical importance not only during the holiday (giving) season, but all year around. So many individuals and organizations are working to make it easy for all Vermonters to have access to it. What I’ve mentioned here is just the tip of the iceberg; check out Food Connects annual report, Windham Child Care’s professional development calendar or the Hunger Councils meeting minutes, and you’ll be amazed at how much our community achieves. It’s inspiring to see the commitment and collaboration that exists and I’m yet again feeling grateful to be raising my young family in such a bountiful and beautiful place with such generous and passionate people.
Sarah DiNicola is the Communications & Events Coordinator at Windham Child Care Association and mom to Sylvia, age 4 and Nina, age 6. She welcomes comments, questions and feedback at email@example.com or 802-254-5332 ext. 310.