BRATTLEBORO — Growing food in a school garden has become an important part of the curriculum in many schools in Windham County.
Right now, students in Guilford, Vernon and Putney are preparing garden beds to raise produce that can be served in the school cafeteria.
“The kids in all the schools have some sort of farm-to-school activities going on, whether that’s classroom raised beds and larger projects oriented around farm to school,” said Herve Pelletier, the principal of Putney Central School.
However, noted Pelletier, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, not all kids are in school this spring to help get the gardens ready. Instead they are continuing to learn remotely.
“The remote kids don’t have that opportunity right now,” he said.
Sarah Rosow, the farm-to-school coordinator for Guilford Central School, recognized this need and applied for a grant to get the remote students the supplies they need for their own home gardens.
“We want our remote students to have some hands-on experiences,” said Rosow, who is working with the remote teachers to get them that experience.
Normally, Rosow works only with students at Guilford Central School, but Deb Kardane, a curriculum coordinator for Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, asked her if she would consider expanding the program to Putney and Vernon.
Rosow applied for a grant through Consolidated Communications’ educational grant program and received $1,200 to purchase materials for container gardens, which will supplement a remote garden lesson plan that will focus on the science of how plants grow.
“This will be an enriching and rewarding experience for our remote students,” said Rosow, who didn’t get as much money as she hoped.
“But every little bit helps and I can do a lot with this,” she said.
Rosow is not solely relying on the generosity of grant providers and taxpayers. She also has working relationships with businesses around Windham County that are chipping in to both support the remote students and the gardens being tended in Guilford.
“Each student will get a fabulous pot, about the size of a five-gallon bucket, filled with compost donated by D&E Tree Company in Guilford,” she said.
The remote students will also be receiving tomato plants from Lilac Ridge Farm, a tomato cage from Brown and Roberts, and a seed-to-plant book from Everyone’s Books, purchased at a discount with funds from the grant. Students will also receive a packet of seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds in Wolcott.
Students will pick up their supplies at the schools and Rosow will be supporting them remotely, both via online chats and a video she is making to explain the process.
“Each of the teachers will work with the students to facilitate the planting,” she said.
Meanwhile, at the school itself, Rosow is coordinating the garden, spreading compost and working it into the soil with the help of students and their families.
“I’m getting a new shed delivered for the woods classroom,” she said, and she already has volunteers to help clear the site and get the shed into place. Parents also chipped in to help prepare the outdoor classrooms and started a fundraiser to pay for rain gear for the students.
“Our community really pulled together,” said Rosow. “They really came through for our students.”
Pelletier also said Putney’s school gardens wouldn’t be possible without community support.
“Just last weekend we had our ‘garden revival’ day,” he said.
Community members came together to till the 11,000-square-foot garden, plant fruit trees and clean up the six raised beds — a revitalized project that will be a crop-bearing garden growing vegetables to process, freeze, and serve in the school meal program.
“We want the kids to know that the food they get at a supermarket was sown, planted, nurtured and harvested by somebody and shipped to them,” said Pelletier.
The work party was an opportunity to breathe new life into Putney Central School’s Farm to School program — a central part of the school’s curriculum and culture.
In Vernon, Principal Mary Ross says she has been inspired by the innovative ways that the remote teachers have provided for the remote learners.
“They’ve found unique and powerful learning opportunities that connect students to our beautiful natural spaces and the larger community around them,” she said, thanking Food Connects for its collaboration with Tara Gordon, the school’s garden coordinator.
While it’s not part of the remote gardening, Guilford Central School also received fruit trees from Scott Farm Orchard.
“This is a real community effort,” said Rosow.