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Farm to School serves up education in Portsmouth schools

Farm to School serves up education in Portsmouth schools
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Part two of this 3-part series, looks at the implementation of the Farm to School program in Portsmouth.

PORTSMOUTH Experiential, hands-on learning is not only something valued by educators, but desired by students, which has helped drive the continued success of the Farm to School program in city schools.

Students want more community experiences where they can apply their knowledge in real world settings,” said Nancy Roy, principal at Robert J. Lister Academy, when asked about Farm to School. “They love the hands-on experiences in the garden, maple sugar shed and learning in the non-traditional classroom.”

She said they particularly like a hand in producing a meaningful “end product.” “The economics of the food industry, food scarcity and equity are issues that resonate with our students, which they are motivated to address,” she said.

Faith Masterson, who teaches kindergarten at Dondero Elementary School, said Farm to School has a profound impact on promoting equity in and out of the classroom.

“This program takes students out of the classroom, which may be a tough space for all children to access, and brings everyone to an even playing field,” she said. “This is a place where we are all learning – the teacher included.”

Masterson believes the garden created through Farm to School has potential to affect each child as well as bring a community together.

“This program has the ability to change how a child, family or community interacts with food,” she said. “I strongly believe in this program and the joy it brings to each child that gets to participate.”

Roy said her staff is equally committed to the program, as they have “developed intensive units of study to integrate it into their curriculum in every content area.”

“We have done school-wide projects and smaller intensive units focusing on a narrower concept, such as dehydration in a school-wide format, that also culminated with a learning exhibition,” she said.

One example of a school-wide project involved collaboration with Block 6. In this project, students had the opportunity to build decorative outdoor/indoor mobile herb containers and use the restaurant to prepare food for invited guests.

As to what she likes best about Farm to School, Masterson said she appreciates the opportunity to “get students outside, breathing fresh air and getting their hands dirty.” “They are getting sensory input that is drastically missing in our classrooms,” she said.

She said Farm to School is also distinctive in its ability to provide opportunities for diverse collaborative opportunities.

“The garden is an equal access zone, which means that student can come as they are and interact with it how they would like,” Masterson said. “If the job for the day was to plant seeds, one student might dig a hole with his or her hands, one student might choose to use a trowel, and one might simply decide to use his or her finger. All are accomplishing the same job but accessing it in a way that feels good to them.”

Rick Wallis, president and CEO of Piscataqua Savings Bank, which helped provide initial seed money, said Farm to School is important because it involves many community layers.

“We like the program, because it engages kids, staff and involves numerous community partners,” he said. “We believe that the energy created by Kate Mitchell and the rest of the Farm to School team will continue to move the program forward in positive ways.”

Mitchell, who manages the program in Portsmouth, said food systems can serve as an important lens through which kids can learn about themselves and the world around them.

“The applications are endless in science, history, English, math, social studies, life skills, sustainability, justice, nutrition and business development, which make this learning of added value and interest for our students and teachers,” she said.

She said the program’s potential is limitless.

“(Farm to School) is helping to shape a culture that is mindful and recognizes symbiotic relationships all around us,” she said. “It can help shape generations to become stewards of not just their bodies, but of their community and the environment.”

The history that led to implementation of Farm to School in Portsmouth will be detailed in part three of this series.


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