Common Roots: Gets Kids Excited About Local Food!

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Thursday June 26, 2014

Breezes are warm, school is out, and maybe a vacation is on the horizon, but there are many reasons to stick around for the glorious Vermont summer, and the South Burlington farmers market is just one of them! The non-profit Common Roots, now in its fourth year, brings residents, farmers, and community members together on a weekly basis to increase awareness about local food.  The Dorset Street market, in operation from June-October, is just one of the organization’s many avenues for getting kids (and adults) excited about supporting local. 

Programming continues to expand for Common Roots and Co-Director Kindle Loomis was on hand at the June 18 school board meeting to provide the exciting details. One of the major components of the non-profit’s work has been engaging students in the farming process through school gardens and teaching them about new foods. Farm to school is aimed at the K-5 age group and after a year long pilot in 2009, the program has just completed four academic years. This introductory program brings food lessons, with tastings, to every classroom at all three elementary schools on a monthly basis. Did your child come home and ask for kale chips? This program likely has something to do with that. 

The battle parents often face to get their children to eat healthy, well balanced meals is familiar, but for families facing food insecurity, the challenge is even greater. That’s where the farm to go program comes in. Farm to go is a six week culinary course offered as an after school program for students selected by the middle school nurse and social workers.  The middle school program enrolls 7-8 students per session and averages six courses every year. Students go home each Thursday with a fresh balanced meal prepared for their family. This gives students the opportunity to learn valuable skills in making food from scratch while  introducing their families to new dishes!

In addition, while each school boasts their own garden, food is also grown in raised beds at the farm at South Village. The farm serves as an educational venue for students to plant and harvest edibles as they learn about ecosystems and beneficial insects. The farm has 35 raised beds on a half acre farm providing food education April-October and produce for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA ) shares.

While the farm to go program provides some assistance to families who face food insecurity, free CSA shares are also provided each year to many families who are identified by school social workers as being in need.  The families receive a share of food from the farm at South Village and partner farm Sol Farm. The first year CSA shares were provided, Common Roots was able to supply 11 shares and now they’re up to 35 shares. Currently, demand is greater than supply, but Common Roots hopes to accommodate more families in the future. 

For anyone who has dropped into the farmers market with their little ones, you may have noticed Kids POP (power of produce club) is growing in popularity. Three weeks in, POP already has 135 members! This is a fantastic way to continue food education through the summer months and is open to kids 5-12 years old. Students participate in food based activities and receive a $3 token to spend on produce from one of the vendors. Currently in its second season, the program runs for 20 weekends. Loomis said studies have shown that when kids get involved in their food system with their own buying power, they are more likely to try new things.

Furthermore, the success of Common Roots programming in the schools wouldn’t be possible without the support of administrators.  Director of Nutritional Services Rhonda Ketner has been instrumental in driving the transformation of school lunch. This year, she introduced local foods and helped to secure grants to facilitate kitchen equipment upgrades that will allow for the production of more fresh foods. Common Roots received a $40,000 grant for the 2013-2014 school year and a $20,000 grant for nutrition services has been garnered for the the 2014-2015 school year. 

Common Roots budget for 2014 is $122,900.To date, they have raised $90,000 for 2014; the goal is to end this year with $25,000 toward next year’s budget. The organization has bountiful community support and has received gifts from several foundations and more than 100 community members. 

Common Roots and the School’s Out Program are partnering to raise funds to purchase a small bus which can be used to provide transportation for students participating in off-site programs.

Director of Learning Stuart Weiss said he has talked to teachers who are so appreciative of what Common Roots does in the schools. “Kids have more of an open mind about foods they wouldn’t have tried previously,” Weiss said. 


SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent