all about food
Akshay, right, and Tim, third-graders in Jen Marden’s class at Little Harbour School, work in the school garden, which is part of the city schools’ Farm to School program.

By Robert Levey

April 29, 2018 at 7:21 PM – Portsmouth, NH — A program implemented at all city schools, Farm to School educates students about the nature of food and provides unique opportunities for teachers to engage them in unique ways.

“I have been taking my students to the garden as well as to our outdoor classroom for the past three years,” said Faith Masterson, who teaches kindergarten at Dondero Elementary School.

“When we are in the garden, we treat it like another learning space. We have a meeting about what our job will be for the day – it could be anything from planting to weeding to harvesting.” Masterson’s kindergarten students love the program, too.

“I get to play and have fun and we plant stuff,” said Annie Martin.

Darilyn Scardina said she enjoys digging in the garden and finding worms. “We also found potatoes and got to make soup,” she said.

For Masterson, the ability for students to help prepare and taste what they have literally sown is a critical program component. “I noticed all students taking a risk and trying the soup even if they initially said they didn’t want to,” she said. “Because of their involvement, they were intrigued in tasting the final product.”

Aside from the fun aspect of the program, Program Manager Kate Mitchell said its deeper purpose is to yield specific learning outcomes.

“By the end of their schooling in Portsmouth, all students should know where food comes from and have had experiences with our local food system, including access to eating local food through the school meals program,” she said. “We want students to be empowered with the knowledge of how to grow their own food and to be educated in making confident decisions about their food choices.” Akshay, right, and Tim, third-graders in Jen Marden’s class at Little Harbour School, work in the school garden, which is part of the city schools’ Farm to School program.

Mitchell said the program’s success stems from strong support from teachers and administration, as well as outside collaborators. She cited Three River Farmers Alliance as one of several special contributors to the program.

“The Farm to School program is creating an entry opportunity for farmers to serve the institutional market, which has tremendous power to impact the local food system with their purchasing strategies,” said Three River’s Erin Tooch. “For students, it is creating a solid foundation of knowledge for a lifetime of healthy food choices and community engagement.”

Three River is a network of more than 20 local farms and food producers that collectively market, aggregate and distribute exclusively locally produced, in-season products. Aside from working with the Portsmouth School District, it sells produce to approximately 150 restaurants, including about 30 in Portsmouth.

Aside from program collaborators, funders continue to make investments in the program, including Piscataqua Savings Bank.

“We sincerely hope that local communities see the value of such a great program and that it will continue for the next generation of students,” said President and CEO Rick Wallis.

Mitchell said the school district has long supported the program and previously related efforts.

Stephen Zadravec, superintendent of Portsmouth schools, said Farm to School has been “called out specifically in School Board goals over the last few years.”

“In terms of the upcoming vote, it would be accurate to say the School Board voted to request funding from the City Council to sustain this program as part of the FY19 budget,” he said.

Expressing gratitude for past and current support, Mitchell said the future looks “big, vibrant, connected and impactful” for Farm to School.

“We have a rooftop garden en route for the middle school, a permaculture greenhouse for the high school, additional dreams at Robert J. Lister Academy, equipment purchases for the kitchens and strengthening community connections in the mix,” she said. “We’re keeping our sleeves rolled up and can’t wait to keep digging deeper.”

Read the original article from the Seacoast Online on April 29, 2018.

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