Farm Food Forest
No childhood is complete without long hours spent in nature, and no education can be complete without an understanding of how deeply dependent we are upon this natural world for our very survival. To provide these experiences and lessons for Schoolhouse students, we offer the Farm Food Forest program (FFF) in partnership with Bread and Butter Farm, our closest farm neighbor.
FFF is a unifying force in our multi-age setting. The curriculum is fully integrated across all ages and classrooms, from Story Time (our preschool) through middle school, and including summer camps and afterschool.
Activities are hands-on and change with the seasons. In our own kitchen we begin the academic year with a bounty of apples, and throughout the year students enjoy cooking, trying new foods, and learning about different foods and cultures from around the world. Fall also brings the final harvesting of root vegetables, winter crop planting, and mulching of planting beds. In the spring we welcome the arrival of new calves. In the forest, we move from building fires in the snow in January to seeking out the first wildflowers in April.
The weaving together of varied, age-appropriate activities allows students to develop an authentic appreciation for the local food system, sustainability, and the importance of caring about our environment. As children grow up in the program, they deepen their understanding of the links between food and the environment, and the relationships between food, health, culture, economics and policy. Students make connections, acquire useful life skills, and come to understand the broader implications of everyday choices.
Bread and Butter Farm
Bread and Butter Farm is a small-scale working farm that strives to engage people of all ages in authentic, real-world experiences. Farmer and co-owner Corie Pierce says it best:
Everyone—in any setting—wants the same things. We want to have fun, we want to be respected, and we want to feel confident and engaged. When students spend time on the farm, they have an authentic experience of ‘a day in the life’ of farming. We don’t set up an artificial learning environment. The experience is fun, hands-on real work with a purpose. I want the kids to have ownership and feel responsible—not so they can become farmers, but because knowing that what you do matters is such an important part of growing up.
Corie is true to her word and provides students the chance to take ownership of their work at the farm, caring for the animals, planting garlic, tending the spinach in the greenhouse or considering soil consistency in the fields. Of course she never forgets about the fun of running up and down the mulch piles or jumping on the hay bales! And tasting greens and munching on bread is a fine reward at the end of a very active session.
FFF at the Preschool Level
Because of the greater flexibility in the daily schedule, preschoolers experience FFF in a fluid and ongoing way. They may plant seed starts in the morning while playing outside, taste kale when they get off the ride-on toys next to the garden, or take a scheduled trip to Bread and Butter Farm. They also incorporate cooking activities and outdoor exploration into their weekly routines, spending between 3 and 7 hours outside daily, depending on the season. The FFF approach is core to our nature-based curriculum and activities.
FFF at the Elementary Level
Our elementary students engage in FFF in several ways.
Ongoing: Several times each week, students start their day with a “food of the day” activity in which they learn fun facts about individual foods, including the nutritional content, common uses, and often some quirky information. Each food is then mapped on a world, U.S., or Vermont map, based on where it is commonly found.
Weekly: Students spend a half-day each week outside of their classrooms, rotating through programs on the farm, in the kitchen, and in the woods surrounding Bread and Butter Farm. Because of the intensity of the program—each session is three hours long and occurs almost every week of the school year—students have an opportunity to learn, reflect upon, revisit, and build on their experiences. They have time to share their discoveries with each other and build a strong sense of ownership and community about their adventures.
Students learn about and work on Bread and Butter Farm, a small-scale, family-owned farm producing grain, grass-fed beef, and greens. Lessons are facilitated by the farm’s co-owner, Corie Pierce, and by Schoolhouse teacher Sally Lincoln, a former agricultural educator at Shelburne Farms. The activities change with the seasons and give students experience in a broad variety of tasks and activities that are central to the farm’s production and functioning.
In our school kitchen, students learn and apply basic kitchen skills. With the guidance of Schoolhouse chef Zach DeFranco, students might select and prepare local and seasonal foods, learning about all the planning and activities that go into creating a meal. Zach also shares his wisdom as a local business owner and all-around renaissance foodie. Emily Cseh, our Americorps VISTA member, also leads students in fun and interesting food-related activities whether artistic, (designing labels for the pickles they make), culinary, or agricultural (planting, tending and harvesting our on-site school gardens).
Guided by Bekah Gordon, a farmer and environmentalist, students explore pristine forested land on the property of Bread and Butter Farm. Using an emergent curriculum, they engage all their senses in exploring the woods, telling stories, playing games, and learning about the forest through observation and experience. Students are encouraged to ask questions and be curious as they explore in an open-ended fashion.
FFF at the Middle School Level
Project- and purpose-driven learning is critical at our middle school level. For this reason, the curriculum is intentionally flexible. FFF provides a broad framework for student learning and multiple opportunities and varied experiences to suit different learning styles and interests. Our middle schoolers have engaged in year-long projects to improve our wetlands, collected data to determine the age of the forest, and learned about soil science as they worked together to create a new production garden at Bread and Butter Farm. They take day trips and overnight outings, and invite special FFF guests to speak at school on a wide variety of topics. Every year brings new ideas and renewed excitement for learning.