(Community) Winter Fare and Ag Education Year-Round
Sooner or later, everyone who is working to get more local food into school cafeterias or incorporate agricultural education into school curricula must learn to work with the fact that the school year was designed so that it wouldn’t interfere with peak harvest season. It’s true that the mad rush of fresh, local veggies and fruit into the markets has slowed by the time the school busses begin their rounds, and this does pose special challenges for food service directors and teachers. The winter months are a great time to turn to the larger community for help in continuing to educate children about agriculture and food.
As more and more people become aware of the benefits and importance of supporting local agriculture, there have been more efforts to make local food accessible year-round. This Saturday, February 2nd, there will be a Groundhog Day Farmers’ Market from 10am-2pm in the 2nd Congregational Church in Greenfield. Locally-produced foods, ranging from apples and carrots to bok choy and popcorn will be available. There will also be a series of workshops about topics like seed saving, bee keeping, and fruit drying. The Farmers’ Market kicks off a week of Winter Fare community events, including potluck suppers and film showings. And six Franklin County restaurants are highlighting local foods on their menus and accepting coupons that can be picked up at the Farmers’ Market. The farmers’ market and all the events following it should be great fun (and you should go, if you live nearby!), but Winter Fare also provides inspiration for teachers or parents wondering about ways to teach kids about agriculture in the dead of winter, and ways to connect that education to the larger community.
There are important, vital segments of Massachusetts agriculture that remain vibrant throughout the winter. Farmers who raise animals for fiber, meat, and dairy continue their daily labors. Fruit and vegetable farmers, while their fields may not be productive, are planning their crops for the following year and often have some fruits and vegetables in cold storage. And in the very early spring, maple sugar houses are at their most active. This is the perfect time of year to teach kids about all the less visible farm activities that happen during the winter, and about the work that livestock and maple farmers do. It’s also a good time of year to talk about the life-cycle of annual versus perennial crops, or crops that are planted in the fall to be harvested the following year, like winter wheat or garlic.
In the early fall, many classrooms do projects with students around local food. They visit apple orchards to snack on crisp fruit, invite parents to participate in local food challenges and potlucks, and generally take advantage of the opportunity to teach kids about local food and agriculture through taste, sight, and smell. It can be a lot harder to build those connections without food to offer. The Winter Fare activities prove, though, that local food is available during the winter, and there are a lot of farmers, community members, and restaurants with expertise to share and an interest in spreading the word about it. Many regional schools have done successful mid-winter local food challenges with parents, like The Green River School in Brattleboro, which held a local feast for parents in early April (click here to learn more). Talk to farmers about storage crops they still have available, ask parents to keep squash or potatoes in their basements or under their beds, dry apples with the kids to enjoy later, and be creative!
For more information about the Groundhog Day Farmers’ Market or other Winter Fare events, please click here. For more ideas and local resources on teaching about local agriculture in the winter, don’t hesitate to call the CISA office!