the conference is what most folks talk about, but i always find that the tours before hand are were i learn the most – and often get the most done. my trip to burlington was no different. the trip to the intervale was certainly fruitful, as was a tour of the burlington farm to school tour. giving credit where credit is do – farm to school in burlington seems to be largely a product of the folks at burlington school food project. sarah who leads the school garden programs was our tour guide – a recent transplant from new york city, she was a huge cheerleader for vermont.
first stop was burlington high school – entering the school itself, you are greeted by this sign - i’m honestly not sure what languages these signs are in, other than the top part. we were informed that 40 languages are spoken in the school – mostly as a result of burlington being a resettlement community for refuges, many from bhutan, and somalia. signage of this sort was all over the building.
in cafeteria we were treated to snacks and a discussion with the doug davis - director of food services though burlington school food project. they seem to have done an amazing work of both linking farms to schools, but also students to food. much of it was centered on connecting the students food culture to each other, students were able to bring in recipes from home to share with their fellow students, and those that were popular made it unto the permanent menu. each month a different culture was highlighted though it’s food culture. while burlington likes to think of itself as a progressive town – its pretty easy to be such when you are relatively homogonious. more than a few folks commented on how much of a hard time long-term residents have had with the recent influx of new residents.
out in the school garden plenty of art work. the gardens were modest but nice – lots of painted signs with plenty of languages. many of the school gardens we visited were dominated by crops often associated with warmer climates, okra, and sweet potatoes. they seemed to be thriving, and were crops favored by the recent immigrants to the community.
the next school visited was hunt middle school – the garden was big and lush having been established a couple of years prior. they had a summer garden program for youth, which helped to tend it. we were introduced to the youth as soon as we arrived, and they were kind enough to share a song with us.
hunt middle was likely my favorite part of the tour – the organizers had done a really good job of breaking out of the show and tell – allowing the youth to speak for themselves, participatory projects, great food, networking and plenty of open space time. often i find the thing i learn most from these sorts of experiences is how to make the adult learning i lead more effective and enjoyable.
i was broken into a group of folks to take part in a participatory art project. absolutely amazing artist/facilitator/visionary/local food hero bonnie acker led the art project. i had been admiring the art work at the schools and the intervale - art work was everywhere at the farms and gardens – turns out so much of it was spearheaded by bonnie, and in conversation over the history of so many of these visionary initiatives being led in burlington around local food – bonnie’s name would come up within a couple of sentences.
in spite of being such a force in burlington and garnering so much respect, bonnie was amazingly humble and gentle, and an amazing teacher. she passed out squares of fabric, scissors, and had us go to the task of cutting out shapes of our favorite vegetable.
i made an image of garlic, and had a nice time chatting with all the other folks. it was obvious that this crew had a lot of quilters in the group and frankly i was a bit out gunned in my fabric shaping skills. after art work a tour of the garden. the garden looked great – certainly helped by the summer crew of youth who were care taking for the garden. like the garden at burlington high school this garden featured crops not generally associated with vermont - heavy on the sweet potatoes , and plenty of okra. like all the other gardens i visited in burlington this garden had plenty of artwork, signs painted and murals, and this big flag in the middle. surrounding this flag were smaller flags students had decorated, with an answer to the question. they looked a lot like a tibetan prayer flag
after art and tours of the garden, lunch and open space. lunch was amazing and the pizza was prepared in an earth oven on site that students had built. open space time might have been the most useful time of the conference, i drifted from conversation to conversation meeting and learning from food service directors around the country and teachers doing amazing work. i finally settled into a conversation led by one of the teachers at the middle school around curriculum development. dom, the teacher leading the discussion, was much to humble in his assessment of the ease of developing curriculum. he seemed to feel like the garden provided limitless potential, you just had to use a little creativity.
his example was teaching about the development of mesopotamian culture, and had the youth grow, thresh, grind and bake their own bread. he combined the history lesson with a math lesson changing the size of the recipe they were working from to illustrate ratios. a lot of work and more than a little creativity went into shaping the project, but very memorable and impactful to students.
next on the list was another trip to the intervale, but i’ve already written enough about that. i left the tour feeling like the work we are doing at the boggs educational center is on the right track, but we have a ton of work to do. time to get to it.