Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Abbie Nelson and Ag in the Classroom

In Franklin County, four libraries participate in tractor days - when farmers bring their tractors out for preschoolers to explore and learn about farming.

Some schools are using Farm-to-School grants from the Agency of Agriculture to get cooking carts, which can travel from classroom to classroom for cooking projects.

Many schools participate in a farmer correspondence program, receiving letters from a local farmer during the winter, then visiting the farm or bringing their farmer correspondent in as a speaker in the spring.

One Vermont teacher has found a simple way to pull more food education into daily schedules - she brings in a whole fruit for snack time, letting kids identify the fruit, taste test it, looking at the parts of a fruit, or discussing where it comes from and how it's raised. A lot can be learned in a ten minute snack.

There are a lot of ways to build agriculture into classroom education. On November 2nd, Abbie Nelson from the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-VT) shared some of the resources available to educators in Vermont. Her organization is part of VT Food Education Every Day, which "works with schools and communities to raise awareness about healthy food, the role of Vermont farms and farmers, and good nutrition." They have resources available online that include guides to bringing local food into schools, lesson plans, guides to taste testing, program evaluations, and how to involve the whole community in learning about farming. 

Two new resources that will be available in November are the New School Cuisine cookbook, which emphasizes healthy, local foods and practical ways to incorporate them into cafeterias, and a comprehensive guide to health and wellness in schools developed with VT-FEED and the Agency of Education. These resources are going to every school in Vermont. They're also being distributed nationally through the Child Nutrition Program.

These guides reflect both lessons learned in Vermont schools, and changes happening federally. Changes to school lunch guidelines mean that children will be introduced to more varied foods in the cafeteria, which in turn is an opportunity to teach them about these foods, health, and farming. Some changes include 'eating the rainbow' (many different colors of vegetable), more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, legumes and tofu is now recognized as a protein source.

Right now, NOFA-VT is gearing up for Agricultural Literacy Week, November 18th - 22nd. You can use their webpage to find out about agricultural activities happening in your region that week, to list ones that you know, or get inspired about ways to get involved.

We got inspired through picture books. Picture book author and illustrator Gail Gibbons joined Abbie on Saturday, and you can read her thoughts here. We also used books Gail and Abbie referenced, recommended reading from Shelburne Farms, and favorites from Jane in the Children's Room to put together a virtual display of some great farm-related picture books - check them out!

(And don't forget that teachers get a 20% discount on purchases for their classrooms).

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