On October 30, 2015

Elementary students “leaf peep” with CSJ’s Marble Valley Grows

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CSJ students practice to work with elementary school students as part of Marble Valley Grows, a farm-to-school program that serves Rutland County.

RUTLAND–Within the past year, the “farm-to” movement has really taken off. You’ve probably heard of farm-to-table, which focuses more on where good food comes from, rather than how good the food tastes. But have you heard about farm-to-school?

College of St. Joseph Farm Manager and Wellness Coordinator Kimberly Griffin developed Marble Valley Grows (MVG), the farm-to-school program based at CSJ that serves Rutland County schools.

MVG goals include strategies to educate children about healthier food options, to include them in the decisions about the food they are served, educate them on where food comes from and empower them to grow food themselves.

It can be divided into three main parts: education, in-cafeteria taste tests and food scrap sorting, and outdoor learning in school gardens.

MVG works alongside the Four Winds Nature Institute and SAGE in a collaborative effort. Four Winds helps children and adults gain the knowledge and science skills to understand the world around them and the creative problem-solving skills needed to protect it. MVG is using the same model to bring food knowledge into schools. MVG sends 12 CSJ students to teach lessons in classrooms, collect food scraps, and provide materials for schools to build their own gardens.

The program partners with seven classrooms in five different schools, including Northeast and Northwest Elementary, Proctor, Christ the King and Lothrop in Pittsford to provide them with in-class curriculum enrichment, hands-on outdoor experience and lunchroom education and exposure.

For CSJ sophomore Samantha Pratt, MVG was a way to get more involved in the community. “I got involved in MVG as a way to go into elementary schools in the community and teach children. We go to their classroom and teach them a different lesson once a month about nutrition and nature, using a lot of visuals and hands-on learning,” Pratt said. “As a student, I’m learning different ways of thinking and processes, and that there are many different ways of sorting things around, ways I would never be able to think of.”

For freshman Elizabeth Turco, MVG was a way to reconnect with a passion from high school. “When I was in high school, I helped teach students in grades K through 4, and I really like teaching younger children about nature and food sources,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for community service and as a psychology major, it’s also beneficial.”

On Oct. 22, kindergarteners from Proctor got their first MVG lesson on CSJ’s campus. The students learned about leaf eaters and their importance to the decomposition process. After watching a puppet show and learning a few new words, they went outdoors to discover leaves that have been eaten or provided habitat for various creatures.

After the lesson, the group made their way to the CSJ compost shed to explore how human food is broken down.

“We are leaf eaters, too,” Griffin said. “Our food waste goes here, is mixed with carbon in the form of brown, dry leaves, and turns back into soil.”

The group also got a quick tour of the college’s Provider Patch farm, giving them an opportunity to reflect on what they want to grow in their new garden bed, which was prepared by MVG and packed in the back of their big yellow school bus.

Proctor community member Mike Knowles helped the children put the garden together after trip.

“We are starting up Farm to School at PES and have been assisted by MVG and CSJ. We will be focusing on composting, growing vegetables, and Harvest of the Month (school-wide taste tests of local fresh fruit and vegetables),” said Proctor’s kindergarten teacher Kim Atkinson. “The kindergarten has already begun benefiting from the relationship between CSJ and MVG.”

Over the next five months, CSJ students will be presenting topics including dirt and worms, bottle compost, and seeds to students in the five partnering schools.

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