Farm to Go
What Do Students and Others Have to Say About Their Farm to Go Experiences?
By Amy Sutton, Common Roots – Food Educator
Farm to Go is our six-week afterschool course for middle school students.
Our student chefs gain concrete skills in crafting a nutritious complete dinner they take home portioned for the size of their family. In nine years students have taken home meals for more than 11,000 family members.
This year Common Roots has received two generous gifts to help defray the actual costs of the Farm to Go program. Members Advantage Community Credit Union donated $1,000 for the sliding scale fee structure that pays for the educator; and Vermont Federal Credit Union donated $3,000 for the food budget of this program for the year. Huge Kudos for reaching out!
“Farm to Go is a fun cooking program where you learn cooking skills and make good meals to bring home for your family. It’s a really good experience and a place where you can be creative. I like everything about it!” explained Trent, a 6th grader at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, when he was asked to describe his experience in the Farm to Go program. Common Roots sponsors this after school program which uses a hands-on approach to teach gardening and culinary skills. Students are shown how to use healthy local ingredients in creating a delicious and nutritious family meal to take home.
Each school year there are about six sessions of the Farm to Go program, with five to six classes per session offered to any 6th through 8th grader. The class has up to eight students but this year we have slowly increased that number due to student demand. Caryn Olivetti, School Counselor at Tuttle Middle School, explains the benefits of the Farm to Go program, “This program is fantastic in exposing students to new healthy food experiences. In addition, this program allows students to build cooking skills and confidence.” When asked what students are saying about the program she said, “Students rave about this program! They are so excited to get into the kitchen and cook and provide meals for their families!” Caryn went on to share some feedback from parents, “Parents are extremely appreciative of these experiences for their children. They also greatly welcome meals brought home that their children have created!” In its 9th year, the program has offered over 11,300 student made meals going home to families.
Every class starts with a healthy snack to power up the students before the two and a half hours of cooking. The snack consists of local fruits, vegetables and breads; for example, apple slices with cheddar cheese and whole wheat bread or fresh vegetables with homemade hummus. A taste test is also served featuring a local produce item from the farm that is often included in the class menu. For example, students compared orange, white and purple carrots and decided the white carrots were definitely sweeter. Many students also tried delicata squash and spaghetti squash for the first time. Since the school fills with the aroma of the cooking class many students and staff often stop in to see what’s cooking and try a taste test. One day we had numerous students stop in because they had heard we were serving a really good taste test and it was spaghetti squash! Can you imagine middle school students asking to eat squash?!
The dinner menu in the Farm to Go program is designed around the local harvest especially produce from the Common Roots Farm at South Village. In the fall many of the meals are made from completely local ingredients, such as the following two example meals:
- Baked marinated Vermont chicken breast with roasted potatoes, acorn squash, carrots, rutabagas and turnips along with harvest salad with kale, delicata squash, apples, cranberries and pumpkin seeds and maple balsamic dressing
- Local organic ground turkey stuffed acorn squash with spinach, onions and herbs along with apple oatmeal muffins and roasted squash seeds.
Each session also has a different theme; for example, this winter we focused on Comfort Foods. The five menus for this session consisted of the following:
- Hearty beef stew with corn muffins, and a mixed greens and vegetable salad with creamy ranch dill dressing
- Shepherd’s pie with beef, carrots, peas & onions, fluffy mashed potatoes, and Irish soda bread
- Baked pork chops with apples, scalloped potatoes, carrot muffins, and a spinach salad with balsamic dressing
- Crispy baked turkey fingers, confetti rice pilaf with vegetables, pumpkin muffins, rainbow salad and honey mustard dressing/dipping sauce
- Thai chicken and vegetable curry, basmati rice, Thai green salad with creamy coconut dressing
Griffin, a 7th grader in the program commented, “I like that we get to learn how to cook and make so many different things like meats and vegetables and salads and breads.” Nadiene, a classmate, said, “In Farm to Go you learn new cooking techniques and make different recipes in every class.” And Maggie, another classmate, added, “I like that we get to make food that is different and that I haven’t tasted before.” At each class students take home a complete dinner meal along with a menu and recipes for each item.
The classes in each session build upon skills beginning with a focus on knife skills with real chef knives, measuring techniques and recipe reading, then adding the use of the food processor and blender. Different cooking techniques comes next; such as making a roux and bread making, creating crispy breaded meat without frying, fluffy mashed potatoes, and homemade salad dressings. The focus is on creating healthy balanced meals featuring recipes with low fat, low salt, whole grains, lean meats, high in fresh vegetable content and of course great taste! In each class students also choose a partner and typically work through four stations each where a different part of the meal is made. Stations are manned by Common Root educators and college interns giving a student to staff ratio of about 2 to 1. Elisha Feenstra, a Nutrition and Dietetics student at UVM who is interning with Farm to Go, said that she feels the program makes a difference because many children never learn how to prepare a meal from scratch. “Nutrition plays a vital role in one’s health, and part of leading a healthy lifestyle starts with what one puts in their body. Developing cooking skills from a young age can help children develop healthy habits and an appreciation for the food around them,” Elisha stated.
Another added benefit of the class is that students get to work on socialization skills and working together as a team. Winnie and Penelope, both 6th graders taking the class, noted that they liked meeting new people that they didn’t know before and getting to work together in different groups. Since the class has a mix of 6th through 8 graders, often the older students can act as mentors to the younger students. Students also get to learn about where there food comes from. Depending on the season the class will take field trips to the Common Roots Farm at South Village to meet our farmer, tour the farm, and learn about farm production. They will also have the opportunity to plant or harvest vegetables and pick wild flowers as well as help with weeding the garden beds.
Many parents have mentioned that the meals have been delicious and that the biggest reward has been “how proud their child is when they bring dinner home for the family!” Several parents have also noted that their children are picky eaters and often not willing to try new foods, but a benefit of Farm to Go is that their child will try the new foods from the Farm to Go class because they have made it themselves. Sometimes their child will even make the recipe again at home for their family. Another parent commented on how good is has been for her child “to see healthy meals being prepped – instead of just the easy stuff like pizza and mac n’ cheese.” Maureen Locker, Family and Consumer Science Teacher, at Tuttle Middle School, felt that students benefited from the program because, “it exposes students to real food and a variety of cooking techniques giving students an opportunity to prepare meals for their family.” She also added that the students have told her that “the food is tasty, that they like things that they did not think they were going to like, and that they look forward to class each week!”
Who knows, maybe another benefit of Farm to Go will be to encourage a student to consider a career as a chef!
If you are between the ages of 10 and 14 and attend Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School and would like to participate in Farm to Go, please contact Amy Sutton firstname.lastname@example.org