FH Tuttle Middle Schoolers dig into soil and realize why local is important.

Farmhands for a day

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Thursday October 27, 2011

On Friday, October 7, a group of 92 eighth graders learned what closing the loop on a food system looked like. 

The students, from team “Why Not?” at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School (FHTMS), came out to the Farm at South Village in South Burlington to harvest hundreds of pounds of butternut squash. 

Each November, the Nutritional Services serves an annual Harvest Meal Lunch to the entire South Burlington School District (SBSD).  The majority of the harvested squash will be used in this meal alone.

None of the eighth graders had ever helped contribute to the lunches they see weekly on their cafeteria trays before Friday. 

“This field trip isn’t like any other we’ve been on because we’re actually doing work,” Michael Chea said. “It feels good to help out our community.”
The squash was planted in May by Mollie Silver, a food educator for the non-profit organization, Common Roots, which focuses on school supported agriculture, along with a farm-to-school program in the SBSD.

“The initial reason I was drawn to farming and awareness of local food was because of the unmistakable reward found from eating food that I felt physically connected to,” Silver said. 

Under direction from their science teacher, Amelia Lutz, the students were split into groups, each with a specific job to do. 

“There were several students who took the tasks given to them willingly and set about with focused effort, feeling part of a larger system,” Lutz said.

These jobs ranged from picking the squash from its prickly vines to deconstructing a trellis where beans were grown this past summer to ripping up black plastic mulch.

“It’s very dirty out there,” student Olivia Grace said.  “Ripping up the black plastic isn’t that hard but I’ve been sinking into the mud.” 

Silver explained to the students that the plastic mulch served two purposes:  to prevent weeds from growing and to attract the sun, since squash prefer warmer soil.
Lutz said that above all else, she was pleased to see her students involved in physical work on a farm, even if some did not necessarily understand the purpose of their job.

“There were a few students not engrossed in the day as much as I had hoped, but I think the exposure is a good first step as it appeared that some of them had not stepped foot into tall grass often, if ever,” she said.

After a week of New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) testing, the students needed some fresh air, and were appreciative to be out of school.  

“Since students had spent three hours a day Monday through Thursday in a standardized testing environment, their moods shifted…considerably when we got to the Farm,” Lutz said.  “They were happy to be helpful, enjoy the fresh air, socialize, and work muscles other than their brains.”

The cumulative 184 hands that harvested, composted, and put the fields to bed finished their tasks in less than two hours, lending time for discovery of artifacts like a cow skull in the compost pile and a rusty horseshoe in the field. 

At the end of the day, when asked, most students said they would most likely be buying the Harvest Meal Lunch.

SOURCE: Megan Brancaccio, Farm to School Educator