Yellow Farmhouse Education Center, housed at Stone Acres Farm in quiet Stonington, CT, “uses
culinary and farm-based education to connect people to each other…” through stakeholder engagement, partnerships with area schools, and experiential learning opportunities for all ages.
On a sunny day in June, CT Grown for CT Kids Grant Impact Coordinator, Abby, and her three-year-old son were found sitting under the cool shade of a tree with the Yellow Farmhouse Educator and Executive Director, Jen Rothman, and Educator and Director of Outreach, Laura Jackson. As the conversation started, it was clear that Jen and Laura are deeply passionate about their commitment to enhancing Connecticut’s local food system, uplifting the need for food to be accessible and affordable to all, through the ever-extending ripples of in-school education.
After a conversation with a Career and Technical Education board member from Norwich Free Academy, it became apparent that high school Family and Consumer Science teachers were searching for high quality professional development. Culinary or Family and Consumer Science Teachers found themselves attending trainings that were typically focused on school core content areas, not relevant to the specialized topics taught in their classes. After this initial conversation, the Yellow Farmhouse began offering workshops to the teachers specializing in food and cooking.
In March of 2020, after running on-the-farm workshops for four years, the Yellow Farmhouse had to cancel all of their in-person gatherings and begin navigating virtual education for teachers. Laura reflected on how the sudden switch to virtual had impacted their ability to reach teachers, saying, “While…you can’t replicate the inspiring and restorative experience of coming to a farm and doing hands-on activities related to the ingredients you’re cooking with, we were able to reach people in a different way. People who are physically further away and may not have made the trip…it made it easier to plug into a virtual program than to take a day to be at the farm.”
The trainings were popular and Jen and Laura received wonderfully positive feedback. Teachers, who were eager to reshape Family and Consumer Science beyond knife skills and the basics of baking, were taking what they learned from the Yellow Farmhouse and bringing it back to their classrooms and their students. Laura and Jen wanted to take their professional development offerings further, and this is where the CT Grown for CT Kids Grant (CTG4CTK) reshaped the program.
The CTG4CTK Grant will fund “a full academic year’s worth of professional development based on topics that teachers have either responded to really positively in the past or said they would be interested in,” explains Laura, running from 2022-2023. After receiving a small grant from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, the Yellow Farmhouse convened a Family Consumer Science Working Group to inform the strategies around supporting teachers. With the knowledge brought by this group, the planning and implementation of the year-long professional development offerings through the CTG4CTK Grant funding is well-informed and will convey precise and necessary information to best use the Yellow Farmhouse resources and teacher time.
The program will include a monthly virtual gathering, as well as periodical in-person workshops throughout the year at the Yellow Farmhouse. After the academic year’s professional development opportunities and workshops, another portion of the CTG4CTK Grant funding will be allocated for teacher stipends to participate in the Yellow Farmhouse’s summer institute. The summer institute stipends will reach out, in particular, to teachers serving low-income districts where students meet a certain percentage of free and reduced lunch, ensuring that all communities and teachers can access the learning opportunities of the Yellow Farmhouse.
With all of the planning surrounding how best to support the teachers, the Yellow Farmhouse has not forgotten the other side of the farm-to-school process…the farms! Another portion of the CTG4CTK Grant will be used to fairly compensate the farmers and experts who will speak to the teachers and offer their support to incorporating more local procurement in schools. “It enhances the programming and builds trust and rapport with the farmers in the region so they feel respected for their expertise,” adds Laura.
Now, what happens when the trainings end and the teachers walk back into their classrooms?
This is where the ripple spreads ever-wider. When the Yellow Farmhouse invests in a workshop with 25 teachers enrolled, using the funding of the CTG4CTK Grant, those 25 teachers will then open their door to 80-100 high school students in one year. With the, estimated, 500 Culinary/Family and Consumer Science teachers in CT, it is easy and exciting to see how far the ripple can extend from the Yellow Farmhouse.
What is very powerful about the Yellow Farmhouse’s connection to Family and Consumer Science teachers is the impact this type of education can have on high school students who are becoming increasingly more interested in their roles as citizens. It is this age group that asks, “What do we need to do to fix this world?” and, in Jen and Laura’s opinions, giving these students knowledge on farming, gardening, cooking, and the fundamentals of nutrition sets them up for success. According to Jen, “The research indicates that high school students are another touch point because they’re thinking ‘I’m about to buy my own food. I’m about to cook my own food. What do I want that to look like?’” By teaching teachers, the Yellow Farmhouse drops the pebble that will send waves of change cascading through the high schools and communities of Connecticut.
There are a multitude of ways to support food and farm-to-school education to grow within
schools, Early Childhood Education centers, farm businesses, and other educational institutions. With the CT Grown for CT Kids Grant, a project or program can be funded and a team of school health and nutrition advocates can be built to support the continuous inclusion of health and farm to school themes in your community. Find out more about the grant at CTFarmToSchool.org, on the Connecticut Department of Agriculture website, and keep a lookout for the second round of the CT Grown for CT Kids Grant, coming this September.