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2017-18 MA Farm to School Institute’s Fall Retreat

Earlier this month, we kicked off the 2017-18 Mass. Farm to School Institute with an incredible Fall Retreat at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, MA on November 3rd-4th. School teams from Essex Technical High School, Webster Public Schools, and Ipswich Public Schools were selected from a pool of applicants for the opportunity to participate in the Institute and join us for the retreat.

The Mass. Farm to School Institute is a year-long professional learning opportunity for school teams from across the state. What makes the Institute model unique and effective is its emphasis on uniting the “3 C’s” of farm to school: Cafeteria, Classroom, and Community. To participate, schools were required to form a core planning team which included school nutrition staff, educators, administrators, and other stakeholders, all dedicated to developing, communicating, and executing a farm to school action plan for their school community.

During the Fall Retreat, each school team was paired with a staff member from Mass. Farm to School (Simca Horwitz, Lisa Damon, and Rachel Harb) to coach teams in drafting a farm to school values statement, completing a 1-year detailed action plan, and identifying longer term goals and new community partnerships.

We were joined at the retreat by a wide variety of speakers offering workshops on farm to school education, nutrition, community partnerships, and long term sustainability. J. Harrison, Executive Director of the Food Project, kicked off the event with an inspiring keynote which emphasized the need for thoughtful partnerships and teamwork as we work to make significant changes in our food system . Many sessions included hands-on components to model experiential education practices. One such session was led by Caroline Rouillard, Engagement Site Manager for The Trustees of Reservations, who demonstrated several examples of farm-based educational activities that are easily replicated in the classroom, such as pairing a lesson plan on where milk comes from with a butter making activity. Speakers hailed from schools and organizations as far away as Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont, and all across Massachusetts, such as Backyard Growers, School Sprouts, Salem Public Schools, Lowell Public Schools, Chicopee Public Schools, Project Bread, and Mill City Grows.

This year’s teams will continue to work on the action plans they established during the Fall Retreat through the end of the school year with support and technical assistance from Mass. Farm to School. Projects the teams intend to tackle include developing a curriculum development course to support teachers in bringing a food and agriculture lens to their teaching, implementing Harvest of the Month in all schools district wide, and promoting student-grown and locally sourced produce in the cafeteria.

For anyone interested in attending the 2018-19 Mass. Farm to School Institute, sign up for the Mass. Farm to School newsletter and keep an eye out for an announcement to submit an application as early as Spring 2018.

The MA Farm to School Institute is presented in partnership with the Northeast Farm to School Collaborative, which has hosted the Northeast Farm to School Institute since 2015 with Vermont FEED. The Institute model was developed and refined by Vermont FEED using evidence-based best practices in professional learning.

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