FEED – Food Education Every Day
Is it too much to say that Julia Child has some competition from the students at Jay/Westfield Elementary School in Jay, Vermont?
This group of intrepid chefs gave a cooking class for their parents and friends as part of their first annual FEED Harvest (Food Education Every Day). They shared a cookbook of student-designed snack recipes and then presented demonstrations of how to prepare them. The kindergarten was celebrating the completion of their ‘healthy snacks” FEED unit with the long-term goal of creating a snack garden on the school grounds.
The FEED program integrates the study of food, agriculture, and local history into a standards-based curriculum. The lessons give students an introduction to Vermont’s farm life, agricultural cycles, nutrition education and their local history. Hands-on skills such as cooking and farm-based investigations are central to the project. Students explore local and global food systems through problem solving activities that follow a product from field to table. The students and teachers partner with local farmers, community members, and historians to explore and discover the connections between their everyday life and school curriculum. By making these connections, students are able to understand and appreciate their surroundings and the communities in which they live.
The FEED project is exploring the challenges that schools and farms face in supplying local foods to the cafeteria, seeking practical ways to “source local” at schools. FEED is bringing together school food service directors, vendors, farmers, principals, teachers and community members to develop strategies for schools to economically buy food from local farms, help school-aged children make well-informed food choices and improve their diets, and give farmers a presence in school.
Simply by eating, students receive a daily food education. What are they learning? There is no simple answer to this question, but connecting directly to area farms is one way that schools can explore food education and meet many related standards ranging from Healthy Choices to Understanding Place.
Here is what a Jay/Westfield third grader wrote as part of her investigation of trips to Butterworks Farm in Westfield:
Dear Magpie, You are going to be my pencow. I hope we can become good friends. I’ve looked at your papers and see you have two calves. I met one of your calves, her name is Marmalade. She looked small to me… Do you remember when I fed you hay and when I petted you? Are you feeling healthy?… On my next visit I would like to see the men make yogurt. My favorite kind of yogurt is lemon.
A pen-relationship with a cow may not be the first activity you think of when imagining the pieces of a food education. However, if we look closely at the words of this student, a number of signposts toward success are evident. This student has expanded the typical (and limited) “pet-a-cow; write about it” model into a more long-term relationship.
By studying the farm’s dairy herd management records back at the school, this student has learned about the cow’s offspring (among other things, like milk output) and been given an introduction to the farm as economic enterprise. The student fed the cow, an entrance into farm life beyond mere observer. She also is starting to see this farm as part of the food system and a part of her own food choices. A set of return trips where the pathway of milk from cow to yogurt production to school cafeteria is explored, gives this student a sense of the way agriculture is embedded in her community, life, and eating habits.
Here is a sample of a Jay/Westfield fifth grader’s creative writing as part of the FEED project:
How the Peppers Came to Be
Many years ago, there was a girl named Brittany. She was a lonely girl who lived with her tribe. Her tribe’s name is Quosews, it mean graceful and peaceful. One day when she was finishing her dress she was working on for several weeks when she decided to go for a walk because she was working hard and needed a brake. She walked to where the flowers bloom and the sky shines bright red and orange. When she got there she saw a beautiful rainbow. She felt surprised when she saw the rainbow because she had not seen one before. It was red, green, purple, yellow, and orange. She walked up to it and she was stunned to find that under it were five plants that were each a color of the rainbow, red, green, purple, yellow and orange. Brittany walked up to the plants and then kneed down to look at them. Then all of a sudden she heard a voice. It sounded like an old man. Then she looked up with a face of excitement to find that there was a man in the sky. The man was big and he had a beard with long shaggy hair that was gray. The man boldly explained, “These are peppers. Take them to your village and share them with your people as a gift.”
Mary Anderson, the principal and kindergarten teacher at Jay/Westfield, deftly described the value and advantages of integrating FEED into her school’s curriculum as part of a post-project evaluation. “We reached out to local farmers. A respect and understanding for the knowledge they have to share with us was developed. By doing so, we created a connection with the very culture of these communities, that for many of us on the staff is quite different from the cultures we experience in our personal lives.” Corrine Morey, the special education teacher at Jay/Westfield, wrote of the impact of FEED on her four students: “It keeps coming back every day. If we read a story, they connect it to eating healthy foods.” Food education happens every day.