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Back to School

By Sophia Hutnik, Phase II Fellow

Until recently, the VSDB campus was closed for the summer and work at the VSDB Educational Urban Farm was very quiet.

Quiet farm

Then, in July, we some good news! VSDB was awarded a grant from the USDA for around $76,000 that will go towards installing a new fence, pollinator garden and raised, accessible beds. Additionally, we finally put up our new tent which has really helped during the hot days on the farm.

New tent

During the summer, we worked on the farm a good amount, but I also spent part of each day preparing for students to come back. This involved reaching out to teachers (once they came back onto campus), finishing a curriculum guide and as well as coming up with other projects for the year. It’s one thing to dream up plans and to have meetings about how to enact them, but it is another thing entirely to actually initiate and complete these projects. Now that students are back, it is time for these plans to be put into action!

This fall, one of the things I am most excited about is working closely with the cafeteria to encourage students to connect the food that they are eating with the vegetables that are in those dishes. When we gave out surveys asking student what their favorite vegetables and dishes are, it was very common for students to say that they didn’t like tomatoes but they liked spaghetti sauce. By bringing in examples of vegetables from the farm for the students to smell and touch a few times a week, I hope they will make the connection that their lunch made with those vegetables. I will also be helping the cafeteria staff prepare dishes with the vegetables from the farm and will be holding taste tests during lunch twice a month. The cafeteria manager and I are also working on creating a more inviting cafeteria ambiance with large blown up pictures of the students on the farm, a recipe box, and more.

Smelling and feeling tomatoes, garlic, and basil. The day's lunch was spaghetti with tomato sauce

I also just put up my first bulletin board that has features that meet the variety of needs of the VSDB student body: fragrant herbs, braille, large print, a braille key for deaf students to read braille with and tactile flowers.

Interactive farm bulletin board

This year has taught me how to navigate the various intricacies in any school. For instance, I had to figure out how to get a bulletin board, who to talk to, what supplies were at my disposal and other relevant details. I needed to put myself out into the school, getting to know teachers and students, engaging in conversations in the hallway, setting up meetings, and actively sharing what we were trying to do on the farm and so on with everyone I met.

It’s been a relatively long road, but seven months later, I now feel that I know who to contact for what, have a general idea about resources available to me and am confident and empowered to carry out all the projects I planned in the summer. I am looking forward to a full rest of the year engaging with students in the classroom, down at the farm and at the cafeteria.

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