Christine school garden tips

Many of you may know from my previous blog posts that in addition to my work with KidsGardening, I’ve been managing gardens and teaching cooking classes for the Burlington School District for the past three and a half years. Since late 2016 a partnership has existed between KidsGardening and the Burlington School Food Project (BSFP), the district’s food service department and the guiding force behind farm to school activities across the city, that has enabled my split role. But as of July 1st, I am stepping away from my work with BSFP and am joining the KidsGardening staff full time as the Programming Director!

As I make this exciting transition, I’ve found myself reflecting on the lessons learned from my time spearheading district-wide gardening and cooking initiatives. Here are some of key factors that I believe have played a role in the success of BSFP’s farm to school programming.

Muli-tiered Support: The expansion of cooking cart programming to the majority of schools in the district can be attributed to the widespread excitement and support for food preparation and tasting activities. At the various elementary schools where I’ve taught, 100% of teachers opted into monthly cooking classes, food service staff welcomed me into their kitchens, and principals provided time at staff meetings for trainings related to food-based education. In many cases we also had parents volunteering to serve on garden committees and assist with planning and implementation. And from the school’s perspective, BSFP was able to meet the needs and interests of teachers by providing an employee dedicated to supporting them and facilitating learning opportunities. Without this multi-tiered support system, I’m not sure how far our programming would have gotten. 

Creative Collaboration: My position with the distinct would not have existed without a partnership with KidsGardening, so perhaps it is no surprise that collaboration in general has proven key to the development of food-based programming. Many of our school garden programs have benefited greatly from community connections—grants received from the co-op around the corner, tool sheds designed and built by students at a nearby college, garden maintenance provided by a local restaurant owner. And looking inward, some of our schools were able to create mobile cooking carts by working under my guidance and with material and financial support from the Food Service Department and the Curriculum Department. In fact, these two district entities, which typically never interact in school systems across the country, collaborated to jointly fund the Garden Education Coordinator position and support farm to school focused professional development opportunities for teachers.

Securing Funding: The decision to integrate a part time position focused on supporting food-based activities into the district’s budget created an enabling environment for the expansion of farm to school programming. But even with such a financial commitment, schools have remained partially responsible for purchasing ingredients for cooking classes and gardening materials. Each school has their own tried and true fundraising mechanisms from seedling sales to generous PTOs, but BSFP has recognized this financial gap and made it a priority to increasingly provide physical materials (mulch, compost, seed packets, vegetable starts, etc.) and monetary support (ex: gift certificates to grocery stores, discounts at local nurseries) directly to schools.

For many, garnering support, discovering and maintaining collaborative partnership, and securing funding can be some of the biggest challenges when it comes to establishing and expanding food-based programming at schools. I hope that these snapshots of the Burlington School Food Project’s success in these areas can be useful to you and your program. 

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