Instructors from Dexter Community Schools recently presented the Board of Education with and update on the Five Healthy Towns sponsored Farm to School program for students.
“Research has shown that when students do school gardening they are more invested not only in their education but also their health,” Lisa Babe, Farm to Cafeteria Coordinator for Dexter’s Farm to School program told the Board. “This actually helps even more than just having a nutrition education program alone.”
Kristen Korff, 6th grade teacher at Creekside Intermediate School, explained that the program’s aim was to “provide positive health benefits and academic opportunities to Dexter Community students through our school garden programs and Dexter Community Schools Food and Nutrition offerings.”
Farm to School is a national movement of garden-based learning that connects students with farmers and farming for an agricultural education. The program also encourages schools to buy and feature locally sourced foods such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, honey, meat, and beans on their menus.
The Dexter Farm to School program teaches two daily kitchen/garden flex classes to the students at Creekside. The program also teaches a six-week After School Garden Club at Creekside in the Fall and in the Spring. The students learn gardening skills, plant and soil biology, recycling, and composting.
“The program also teaches healthy cooking,” says Garden Coordinator and Master Gardener Francie Wesorick. “The students love to cook. We use our produce as much as we can. We freeze a bunch of it so we can use it all year round. The students learn basic kitchen such as measuring, healthy meal and snack preparation, and of course how to clean up. I have found that if they prepare it themselves they will always try it and they are often surprised by what they like.”
Over the past five years, Dexter Farm to School has joined forces with the Dexter Food and Nutrition Program to offer fresh and local produce offerings at Dexter Community Schools cafeterias. Produce is not only purchased from local farms but also directly from DCS gardens. This component of the Farm to School Program not only increases community involvement and helps the local economy but also gives Dexter students a sense of pride in their school as well as a sense of community.
“Gardening is not only a great learning experience,” says Francie, “but a great physical activity, something the students can do together.”
In addition to the academic benefits of Farm to School, research has shown that students who are engaged in school gardening have increased self-esteem and lower stress levels, reduced anxiety, and can even improve symptoms of depression.
In 2009 Chelsea Community Hospital merged into the St Joseph Mercy Health System. Out of that merger a coalition was formed promote health and wellness in Chelsea Hospital’s primary service areas of Chelsea, Dexter, Stockbridge, Manchester, and Stockbridge – Five Healthy Towns (5H).
5H was initially funded with $25 million for a mission to cultivate improvements in personal and community wellness. Of the hundreds of thousands they have spent in Dexter, the largest portion has gone into the school system or organizations running programs for the school district or working with children. One of the programs 5H funds is Dexter Community Schools Farm to School program.
“These programs not only nourish our kids through food,” says Kirsten, “but these programs help them socially and emotionally by promoting physical activity, healthy eating habits and expanded access to local fresh grown food.”
The lesson plans are project based and interactive. The kids are out in the garden getting dirty, and they don’t seem to mind. They’re excited to be in the garden. The curriculum includes composting, worm farming, seed collecting and seed saving which is a great lesson in resourcefulness – providing the seed for next year so none has to be purchased.
“We’ve been really lucky here at Creekside to have these gardens where we can just walk out the door and into the garden to teach a lesson right then and there,” says Kirsten. “It develops the nurturing skills in the kids when they are planting, feeding, water, caring for, and protecting their plants. They are excited to watch them grow.”
The students have grown over 40 different varieties of vegetables and fruits last year with 10 different varieties of herbs. Out of what they produced, the student agriculturalists helped raise money for their program by selling over 200 pounds of produce directly to DCS Food and Nutrition.
You can learn more about DCS Farm to School Program at https://dexterfarmtoschool.org/
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