Beacon Farm to School Partnership
Since 2012, the Beacon City School District (BCSD) and partner organizations, Hudson Valley Seed (HVS), Common Ground Farm (CGF), and Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County (CCEDC), have established and grown a strong Farm to School program that has served to support student and community wellness. Karen Pagano, BCSD Food Services Director, has taken an instrumental lead in building a strong Wellness Committee, that includes participation from each partner organization, parents, administrative staff, and teachers from each school. Each partner organization has found a unique way to support and enrich the lives of our students--through hands-on curriculum-based learning, direct contact with fresh food and local food professionals, and opportunities for students to develop vocational skills. The food-based educational programming supports Pagano’s work to ensure that every student has the opportunity to eat--and is excited to eat--nutritious food. In addition, all partners have worked with Karen Pagano to strengthen and implement the BCSD’s wellness policy, and have implemented several collaborative wellness programs, including a walk to school day and a family fun wellness night for all elementary schools in the district.
Hudson Valley Seed
Hudson Valley Seed educates children in school gardens, empowering students through curriculum-integrated lessons focused on healthy eating, food literacy, outdoor learning, and academic success. All Beacon elementary students participate in fun, hands-on garden time lessons that foster an understanding of where food comes from and why it's important to eat fresh vegetables. Beacon elementary schools participate in a 'vegetable of the month' program which features a seasonally available local vegetable that is both served in the cafeterias throughout the month and highlighted in garden lessons delivered by HVS. To educate and generate excitement about each month's vegetable, posters are created, a school-wide taste test is conducted, and informational activity sheets are distributed to families.
Common Ground Farm
In 2016 CGF began providing fresh produce to Beacon City School District cafeterias, and in 2017 and 2018 the schools received over 3,000 pounds of produce throughout the growing season for both the Vegetable of the Month tastings and for regular lunchtime meals. We believe that every growing child has a right to healthy, fresh food, and the school cafeterias are a great way to provide fresh produce to all of the children in our community.
Common Ground Farm works in collaboration with our community partners Beacon City School District and Hudson Valley Seed to feature a Harvest of the Month program throughout the school year. Every month, students learn about a different seasonal vegetable through programs in school and at the farm, and the vegetable is featured throughout the month in the school cafeterias. At the end of each month, the four elementary schools participate in a taste test, which is a chance for students to decide whether they like the dish with the featured vegetable! When possible, Common Ground Farm provides the vegetables for the in-school programming provided by Hudson Valley Seed and in the cafeteria for the taste tests.
Field trips to Common Ground Farm allow students to learn how food grows by visiting the farm and meeting our farmers. When children harvest broccoli rabe with their own hands, they are excited to try it! Students bring their harvests to our classroom where they work with a local chef to create a dish together. This experience allows students to participate in their local food system in a way that creates excitement to eat vegetables and engagement in their own nutritional needs. When students see lettuce growing in our fields and then see the same lettuce in their cafeteria, they connect those experiences and the excitement that they felt when tasting vegetables in our fields extends to their school day!
Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Green Teen Program has been working with the BCSD in a variety of ways since 2004. The program hires youth, mainly from the BCSD, ages 14- 19 years old to work for Green Teen in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. These teenagers gain life and work skills while learning how to garden, farm, and cook food. In the summer the Green Teen program runs a mobile farmers market and sell food at discounted prices to low-income community members. Another piece of our summer program is a partnership between CGF, Kids R Kids Feeding Program and Green Teen. These partnering organizations provide weekly cooking classes to the Green Teens taught by professional chefs. The Teens then teach what they learned to the elementary aged children at the Kids R Kids free summer lunch sites through cooking demonstrations. As the Green Teens gain skills and knowledge in gardening and farming they are given opportunities to move up in the program. They can become crew leaders for future Green Teen crews, or they can go on to work as interns with CGF or HVS in the summertime. This past summer we had four ‘next step’ interns between the two organizations.
In addition to hiring teenagers, Cornell Cooperative Extension also runs a fall program for the
fourth grade classes at JV Forrestal, one of the BCSD elementary schools. Students
learn about pollination and why honeybees are important, what is happening to many
honeybees, and what they as fourth graders can do to help the food system. Participants
research and write essays that accompany a 50-foot mural that they make together
drawing honey bees leaving their hive. We also grow basil plants in their classrooms and
end the 9-week session with a meal of homemade pesto, tying together the idea of growing
food for pollinators as well as people.
Innovation in the Cafeterias
Our cafeterias embrace the farm to school programs by focusing on fresh local (when available) goods both in our regular menu mix as well as featuring a vegetable of the month. We collaborate HVS’s and CGF’s farm to school initiatives for the vegetable of the month program,
often trying similar recipes to the ones used in the chef in the classroom programs or
adaptations of the recipes sent home on the farm to school newsletters created by HVS.
We have found that recipes where we are prepping and producing up to 1000 portions of a fresh
vegetable recipe can be daunting for cafeteria workers and budgets so we try and keep the recipes simple. The expense is also large to feature a local vegetable as a standalone recipe so we try and incorporate the tasting recipes into salads or soups or side items that also include other less costly ingredients. We have found students may try a different or unfamiliar vegetable if it is in a pasta salad or soup. We can also feature the veggie of the month in our Top your own Salad days. Students can try a different veggie along with the salad giving them opportunity to sample without such a commitment.
Our experience has shown success with students selecting a veggie item depends on the frequency the students are exposed to it. Reinforcing the vegetable of the month in garden time, farmer in the classroom and chef in the classroom plus visits to CGF helps students
associate these hands-on experiences with food with what they get in cafeterias. This past June our partners at CGF donated hundreds of heads of fresh grown lettuce when the gardens were bountiful. The photos and menu promotions helped to associate fresh farm grown with school meals.
Each year since the inception of the farm to school program, our annual produce purchase expenditures have grown at significantly. This year we committed $10,000 in entitlement funds to the produce pilot program which gives us great buying power for the local goods – and we exhausted this amount in the first two months of school. Back in the 2011-2012 school year the entire produce purchases for our school was just over $30,000 . One area that we have yet to determine is consumption and waste analysis. We hope to implement some measures for this in the coming year.
Transferability & Growth: Hudson Valley Seed is designed to be scalable. We have grown from serving 56 students in 2012 to serving 3122 students today through both in-school and after-school programs. HVS staff and recruited volunteers build and maintain the physical gardens on school grounds. Our staff bring the time, labor, and expertise needed to ensure the success of the programs. HVS educators teach hands-on garden-based lessons, bringing expertise and experience in farming and environmental education to students each week. Each HVS lesson is structured by our own original, comprehensive garden learning curriculum. HVS staff actively raise the funds necessary to offer these programs at no cost to the participating students and as little cost as possible to the schools. The program is poised to replicate throughout many more regional schools. HVS now has over 13,000 students on our waiting list. With proven program success, the buy-in of local schools and communities, and the support of thought leaders including Michael Pollan and Alice Waters, HVS is well-positioned to leverage strategic opportunities and funding to build the long-term sustainability of Hudson Valley Seed’s programs and lay the foundation for broader systemic change in our region and beyond. HVS programs will be offered in the 2017-2018 school year as well as each following school year to a steadily-increasing number of schools.
Common Ground Farm is a farm rooted in the community in which it is based, Southern Dutchess County. As our educational programming grows, we seek to bring in our neighboring school districts of Fishkill, Wappingers Falls, and Newburgh. In collaborating with partner organizations both in and out of Beacon, we share ideas and actively build coalitions to better get food in the hands that need it, and bring food-based education to all members of our community.
Green Teen could be set up in other districts using similar partners, working in the schools, or after school as we do in Beacon.
Impact & Measurability:
We have seen consistent successes in HVS classrooms over the past three years, with students demonstrating increased knowledge of food sources, increased willingness to eat vegetables, and increased engagement in school and the world around them. We monitor our program’s outcomes through cafeteria taste-tests, the improvement of classroom attendance and academic achievement over the course of the year, and through recorded observations by the HVS educators, classroom teachers, and students’ parents. Through monthly taste tests, HVS and BCSD have measured that students participating in HVS garden programs are 46% more likely to try and like new vegetables than their nonparticipating peers. School cafeterias are serving more vegetables, and students are eating and enjoying them. Students who may not thrive in the typical school day find ways to engage in learning in our gardens. Students’ school attendance and test scores are up, and students and teachers are taking pride in their school gardens.
CGF’s educational programs are measured in a variety of ways. Every chef in the classroom session starts and ends with a tally. Do you recognize this vegetable? Do you like this vegetable? And at the end, Did you try the dish we made together? Did you like it? We have found that the experience of making something together almost always gets kids excited and willing to try something new. We interview students after they participate in our 5th grade mural project, and have received many student responses indicating that the process that included harvesting, cooking, working with animals, working together as a class community, making something for their school, interdisciplinary learning--was highly empowering. For our summer camp we offer parents an opportunity to complete a survey to offer us reflection and suggestions for change. Our responses this year were overwhelmingly positive and often reflect transformative experiences in campers’ tastes and preferences.
The Green Teen program directly impact the youth that we hire through all that we do. The community members and customers of the mobile farmers market benefit from the affordably priced fresh vegetables that we make available for sale in our city. We administer pre and post evaluations that measure the content that we deliver. During the past three seasons 100% of the participants improved their scores. Each season we also administer the READY tool (Rochester Evaluation of Asset Development for Youth). This tool measures four core youth development outcomes (development and maintenance of caring adult relationships, basic social skills, decision making process, and constructive use of leisure time) along with program participation, connectedness to program, and socio-demographics. The READY tool is an instrument designed to help programs serving youth evaluate the impact of the programs on youth development. The feedback has been valuable in designing new components of the program, modifying existing components and planning for future years.
For example, according to results from the READY tool in the fall of 2016:
- 100% of the youth reported that the program helped them to make friends,
- 88% of the youth reported that the program helped them to make better decisions, 13% disagreed with that statement but said they did not need help in the first place.
- 100% of the youth reported that the staff cares about the participants and that they would go to a staff member if they had a problem.
- 73% of the youth consider the future when making a decision
- 63% of the youth consider the consequences of a decision
In addition to these numbers we have specific examples of how we impact the youth we work with. This fall a young person who swore she would never apply to college just told us she applied to a local community college and wanted help applying to another local school. Sometimes Green Teen alumnae go on to work in food related industries, in the gardening or landscaping field, or want to work with people in the Human Services.
Since 2012, Wellness Initiatives and Farm to School programming in Beacon have grown each year. Each partner organization directly supports student wellness through direct contact with students in the cafeteria, in the garden, at the farm, and in the community. Because these initiatives are managed through three non-profit organizations plus the BCSD, programming is funded through a diverse portfolio of grant funding and donor support. Support for the work that we do is growing. Educational programs expand each year to touch more grades at more schools more often. Local food offerings in the cafeteria are increasing gradually over time. Successful implementation includes adding scratch recipes to the mix at a manageable rate for kitchen staff, working with CGF and other local purveyors to receive food donations and low cost local products that can quickly be processed when they are seasonally available, and thinking like a child and incorporating more finger food to the mix.