Bristol County Agricultural High School Takes Holistic Approach to Farm to School

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Interview with Kyle Medeiros, Animal Science Dept. Foreman, BA Grows Garden & Farmers’ Market Manager

Bristol County Agricultural High School has a thriving farm stand, school garden, and farmers’ market born from a desire to engage with the community by recognizing the renewed interest in local produce and by involving students in production agriculture. Bristol Aggie’s superintendent, Stephen Dempsey, approached Animal Science Foreman, Kyle Medeiros, and Carpenter/Foreman, Ryan Miranda, to discuss the possibility of creating a garden program where students would be involved in every aspect of growing, harvesting, and selling crops, from starting seedlings to operating a farm stand (built by Miranda) on campus. Both Medeiros & Miranda were excited about the project and they’ve been off and running since 2014.

Understanding the current trends in agriculture is an important part of Superintendent Dempsey’s job. Picking up on the increase in farm to table restaurants, people’s desire to eat local, and the growth of the SEMAP conference motivated Dempsey to create the BA Grows program. Medeiros says, “Mr. Dempsey wanted to see more entrepreneurship [and] production agriculture, [so students] will know how to run a business and not just how to grow [crops].” The increased market for local food means that small (5-acre) farms growing an excellent product have the ability to be profitable, and it was important for Mr. Dempsey to introduce this possible career path to his students.

In the beginning Medeiros & Miranda started and maintained the garden, but now students from the floriculture department are involved from the start of the season. All through the winter, microgreens were grown and eaten in the school cafeteria. Medeiros is especially excited about the ability to provide the cafeteria with food from the their greenhouse and garden. He says, “we’ll have kids come in before school and pick a couple of bushels of whatever is ready and it’s literally getting eaten for lunch three hours later.” Medeiros works with Food Service Director Theresa Vernazzaro, who is thrilled to have fresh produce grown on site. She was able to give her input based on the nutrition requirements for school meals and then suggest the various types of produce she would like to incorporate into her menus. Medeiros was able to make a planting plan around what Vernazzaro thought she would use most.

Now that its springtime, the students are involved in starting up the outdoor garden by planting seedlings which start in Bristol Aggie’s large greenhouse, and then by transplanting those seedlings in the garden (images). The students have been doing all the transplanting for the past two years, and prior to this no vegetables were grown on site. Over the summer the students will run the farm stand with supervision from Medeiros and Miranda. The farm stand will be open from Tuesday – Saturday and the students decide, “how they want to set up the stand and what vegetables… and other things they think will sell best,” says Medeiros. He’s excited that, “the kids can really learn from the whole program because they’re running a business… and getting their farming experience.” Bristol Aggie received their Commonwealth Quality Program certification, which gives them the ability to sell at grocery stores, however their farm stand and farmers market have been so successful they’ve sold all their product on site.

Bristol Aggie is taking a wonderfully holistic approach to farm to school: in the garden, in the classroom, in the cafeteria, and in the community. Floriculture teachers are able to incorporate cafeteria menu items into their lesson plans by having the students learn about and plant garden seedlings, Medeiros and Food Service Director Vernazzaro are working together in the cafeteria, and students are involving the community by selling produce through their farm stand and boosting awareness about the BA Grows program and Bristol Aggie generally. If you’d like to visit Bristol Aggie and learn more about what they’re doing, consider attending their Spring Expo on May 13th or visit their farm stand over the summer. You can keep up with all the BA Grows news via their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BristonAggieGrowsFarmStand/!