School Gardens at the Massachusetts Farm to Cafeteria Conference

On January 13, 2015 nearly four hundred supporters of the Massachusetts Farm to School project gathered at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester for the 2015 Farm to Cafeteria Conference: Pollinate!  The audience, including educators, parents, school nutrition professionals, farmers, and policy makers, came together to share ideas, success stories, and challenges.

A number of workshop sessions were offered throughout the day with presentations providing representation from across the state.  One workshop called School Gardens included panelists from two leading school garden organizations: Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom (MAC) and Backyard Growers.  Speakers included Alice Posner and Debi Hogan from MAC, and Lara Lepionka and Meghan Stratton from Backyard Growers.

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Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom school gardening resources.

Alice Posner is the MAC Program Associate for School Gardens with a resourceful blog entitled “School Gardening Notes.”  On the blog, Alice offers winter and summer gardening tips, innovative approaches to making your school garden work at your school location, and design tips for garden beds.  In her presentation, Alice discussed the essentials for getting a school garden started and the importance of gaining community support.  She also showcased all that MAC offers as resources: garden-based lessons, workshops, how-to guides, mini-grants, and her blog.

Debi Hogan, the Executive Director of MAC, talked about financial logistics of school gardening and grant writing.  Since 1994, MAC has distributed $220,000 to 310 school organizations for gardens and reached over 13,000 teachers and farm educators through education initiatives.  MAC is a nonprofit organization that provides agricultural education training and resources for Massachusetts educators.  In her presentation, Debi encouraged listeners to apply for grants for school gardens, to write them correctly according to directions, and to appeal to the grant giver.

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Meghan Stratton and Lara Lepionka from Backyard Growers.

The final presenters were Lara Lepionka and Meghan Stratton, representing Backyard Growers in Gloucester. Backyard Growers is a grassroots initiative helping to reshape the community’s relationship with food, offering resources and support for vegetable gardens for families, community groups, and schools.  Lara, co-owner of Beacon Street Farm in downtown Gloucester, spoke about the potential outcomes of school gardens, such as food production, science programs, and math programs.  She highlighted children’s positive experiences with gardens and how valuable the seed to fork process is to them.  Meghan Stratton, a FoodCorps service member who works with children in the gardens, spoke to how much the kids really love the gardens and enjoy spending time planting, harvesting, and learning.

For more school gardening information, check out the JSI Resource Center Go Green for Schools category which includes information on school gardening, farm-to-school initiatives, sustainability, and composting.  You will also find related curricula and lesson plans. MAC is sponsoring their 14th Annual Growing Minds Through Massachusetts Agriculture Conference for Educators on Saturday, March 7th in Palmer. Be sure to join JSI Instructor Meg Whitbeck, MS, RD, who will be presenting a session called Strategies to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity in the School at the conference.

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