Since news broke that schools in Vermont would remain closed for the duration of the academic year, many of the Burlington School District teachers I work with have been wondering what to do about our growing spaces. Do we scrap school gardens for the year or do we adapt to our new circumstances?
The Burlington School Food Project, our district’s food service department and Farm to School program, is committed to seeing our growing season through. While we’ve all but decided to cancel our student-led Fork in the Road food truck program for the summer, we are moving forward to growing seedlings in our greenhouse and hope to ramp up production in our larger gardens this summer so that we can provide produce to students and their families during this unprecedented time.
Some of our elementary school gardens are looking to take a similar approach while other programs are still up in the air, with teachers waiting until mid to late May to make decisions about how they will proceed. Many of our schools have the flexibility of waiting over a month to figure out their plans—we usually don’t start planting outdoors until closer to the end of the school year anyway due to Vermont’s often chilly spring weather and schools know they’ll have starts and seeds ready for them through the Burlington School Food Project. If schools end up deciding they don’t want to plant the seedlings we’ve been growing for them in our district greenhouse, then we’ll donate these plants to the community.
In the meantime, we’ll continue watering our plants and prepping our production growing spaces. But the Burlington School Food Project is doing more than just thinking about school gardens, like many other child nutrition programs across the country, we’re working hard to provide meals to students at feeding sites set up across the city. Over a two week period our team served over 10,000 free meals (our school district is approximately 3,500 students and not everyone elects to participate in our school meal program) and donated a considerable amount of perishable product from our school kitchens to local food banks.
The Burlington School Food Project will continue to serve meals for the remainder of the academic year, even during school breaks, before transitioning to our summer feeding program. As previously mentioned, our goal is to make garden-grown produce available to families at our meal distribution sites. Until the time that produce is ready to be harvested, we’ll be piloting a seed distribution program in partnership with Vermont Community Garden Network and the Vermont Farm to School Network.