FROM FARM TO SCHOOL: A Great Start in Germantown

EDUCATORS AT GERMANTOWN Central School District’s Elementary School are remarking on an interesting phenomenon: many of their students want to learn to cook.

These teachers also say their students are sampling and enjoying foods that in years past would get a quick and unambiguous thumbs-down. For example, a fresh spinach salad lightly dressed with oil and vinegar: 5th graders quite literally gobbled it up. And a lettuce salad had 4th graders coming back for seconds and thirds.

So the library added new cookbooks to its collection, and when there aren’t enough to meet demand, it’s off to the photocopier for the most-popular recipes. These kids are doing quite a lot of cooking, by themselves and with parents and sometimes grandparents.

What’s behind this newfound interest in culinary creations and formerly un-favorite foods? (This is a test.) Is it:

*The students’ pride in crops they took from seed to table?

*The chicks that hatched under the delighted gaze of kindergartners and special classes?

*The 2nd grade’s curriculum that led them to plant radishes that they transplanted outdoors and later harvested?

*Learning how to set a table (and finding a new “fork in the road”)?

*The Apple King of Germantown’s visit, or the local beekeeper’s?

*The pumpkins picked in Amenia, or a fascinating Fix Farm foray?

*The gardens growing right outside the library windows — seven, one for each grade? (With apologies to Hawthorne, is Germantown Elementary the “School of the Seven Gardens?”)

My educated guess? All are correct.

Cooking gives children of all ages a chance to express themselves and to satisfy their urge to create, which may be why the “cooking” program at Questar III in Hudson is called Culinary Arts. Perhaps today’s elementary-school students will seek out that program years later as they approach high school. And after that, there’s the community college, which has gardens, too.

Columbia County is agricultural, with farming and related industry bringing in more bucks than any other occupation. Its farms are changing, with some farmers selling off their acreage or cattle to leave agriculture altogether. And yet, plenty of farmers want to have a go at it, and whether it’s brand new to them or they have farming generations deep, they’re farming differently than their predecessors of 50 years ago. The county’s Farm Bureau is seeing a growing interest among young people; maybe the emerging trend among Germantown’s youngsters for DIY meals from real, local, fresh food rather than store-bought Done-By-Others meals, is a logical complement.

The Healthcare Consortium’s Kids in Motion program (kidsinmotiononline.org or 518 828-8820) has developed a county Farm to School program, and one of its goals is to engage schoolchildren and their families in hands-on food-related and agricultural activities. SPIG (School Partners in Gardening), a partnership between Cornell Cooperative Extension and the county Health Department’s Healthy Heart Program, is playing a key role in helping school gardens to sprout and flourish in every school district.

Germantown Elementary, through its efforts to engage its students in food- and ag-related activities, is giving those students a great leg up. From kindergarten to culinary–why not?

To contact Virginia Martin, Farm to School consultant for the Kids in Motion program of the Healthcare Consortium, email . For more about the Kids in Motion program go to www.kidsinmotiononline.org.

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