written by Sarah Parsons West
St. Albans – Insulated beneath the snow at Houghton Park, a guild of fruit bushes and rhubarb plants lie dormant, awaiting their first spring thaw. Cultivated last season, the fruit-based garden serves as a pilot project promoting edible landscapes throughout the community. The Houghton Park Guild, located on the Elm Street side of the park, welcomes all visitors to harvest what they might need. Initiated by the ‘Foodscapers,’ a committee of like-minded individuals, the Guild demonstrates collaborative enhancements to an existent green space, ultimately increasing food security within the local community.
“By making fresh and healthy options more easily available, we hope people will choose those,” says Destiny Cadieux, RN, Public Health Nursing Supervisor with the Vermont Department of Health, and a Foodscapers founding member. While each Foodscaper brings unique interest and expertise to the committee, they agree that addressing social determinants of health, especially food insecurity, are key motivation.
More than ten percent of all Vermonters live in food-insecure households, meaning that they do not have regular access to nutritious foods, with St. Albans’ food insecurity hovering around 18%. According to Hunger Free Vermont, children living in these homes are at greater risk, due to nutritional deficiencies and developmental delays. “The issue of food insecurity is currently a pressing conversation to be having, not a new one,” says Cadieux. She says one mission of the Guild is to better equalize the community, to bring the haves and have-nots together on the same level, through equal access to food.
The Foodscapers believe the Guild site is sustainable, with additional signage needed to clearly explain the plantings. The Foodscapers wanted plants that would continue to bear produce over time, choosing fruit trees, bushes and herbs over vegetables, most of which are not perennial in Vermont’s climate. Nearly two years of planning passed from conception to reality of the Guild; with site proposals and the procurement of funds and materials taking time.
Foodscaper Jacob Holzberg-Pill, an Outdoor Technology Instructor for NWTC/BFA, provided content expertise, utilizing his classroom to bring students into the garden. “The students designed the structure of the guild and did the planting, creating a mutually beneficial relationship between the Guild, the students and the school,” says Cadieux. Ties with the St. Albans Rotary and Rotary Interact (a youth service club), were made through Rotarian-Foodscapers Karyn Rocheleau and Trisha Woodward. Funding for the Guild project was given in part by the St. Albans Rotary, and through an Amplify Grant, awarded by RiseVT. The annual RiseVT Amplify grants continue to provide funding for community projects that help make the healthy choice, the easy choice. Aims to reduce obesity and increase access to healthy foods made the Foodscapers’ Guild project a good match. “The RiseVT amplify grant also made it possible for the Rotary to invest in fruit trees, bushes and plants for the Berkshire and Swanton Elementary Schools,” says Karyn Rocheleau. “We also landed a few blueberry bushes at NMC. It was exciting to be able to help other communities.”
The Foodscapers agree their work requires long-term vision. “As more sites become available across our city, whether that’s based upon grants or by residents offering access to their own produce,” says Cadieux, “now is the time for thinking and conceptualizing about possible projects and partners.” The goal is for families from all backgrounds to continue to access food at the Houghton Park Guild, demonstrating community readiness for additional landscaping with edibles. The committee hopes that more community members will help identify beneficial locations to plant edibles, to begin thinking about ways they can contribute and participate in their own towns.
“We want to see multiple locations across the city and county that have edibles readily available for all,” Cadieux says. That plan includes the creation of a ‘Walking Map,’ highlighting the edible projects across the city that residents or visitors could take advantage of. Whether it’s peppers for dinner or strawberries for a salad, people would know where they could go to get them, at no cost. “These edible landscaping projects are not designed to target any one specific population,” reminds Cadieux. We want to help foster wellness; to normalize the access to food across all communities.” —
Foodscapers Committee Members, past and present:
Destiny Cadieux; Heath McAllister; Jacob Holzberg-Pill; Trisha Woodward; Karyn Rocheleau; Betsy Fournier; Anne Levy; Gillian Marchessault and Joshua Lareau
Written by Joy Choquette
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This quote, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, underscores the importance of active learning. And while this term is frequently used to describe a more hands-on approach to education, it’s also true for most learners.
At Folsom Education Center in South Hero, teacher Julie Pidgeon learned this firsthand. Julie, who teaches Language Arts to 5th through 8th-grade students, states that the inclusion of flexible seating in her classroom has made a significant positive impact for students. “From a teaching standpoint…I feel it’s really helped their focus and engagement in learning,” Julie states about the new seating options.
The classroom was outfitted with wobble stools and a standing table, along with textured chair pads that can be used at either a low table or in traditional chairs. These options allow students to move without distracting others. Julie states that the idea was first posed by a RiseVT staff member. Julie and fellow teacher Tom Nolan—who teaches social studies at the same grade levels—applied for a RiseVT grant and were awarded funds to help outfit their classrooms.
“The response has been tremendous,” Julie says. “The kids just love the seating. Their response was fantastic.” Colby Reagan, one of the school’s seventh-grader’s, says, “It’s good because it’s kind of like I can fidget but also concentrate more.” Daniel Jackson, a classmate, concurs. “It felt like I could move around more,” he said of what are affectionally called the “jellyfish” seats—basically cloth-covered yoga balls positioned on legs for stability.
Julie’s room wasn’t the first in the school to get alternative seating options. In the Special Education room, Shannon Jankowski utilizes beanbags and flex bands around the bottom of chairs. These help students to focus more on their work. “A lot of kids pick the seat that’s best for their bodies,” she notes, adding that, “The baseline was very clear,” about what was allowed and not allowed to be done while using alternative seating.
There have been few problems in that regard. Julie agrees, saying that it’s virtually “eliminated safety concerns.” Kids don’t feel the need to tip back in chairs because they can choose a seat that moves with them and keeps them safer simultaneously. “It’s not distracting or disruptive to others,” Julie says. “Kids are moving and getting up and still learning. You can still learn and get things done while getting movement in your day.”
“It’s great,” sixth-grader, Ava Savoy, offers when asked what her thoughts were about the flexible seating options. She says she likes that she has the option to sit or stand. Aurelia Wickenden, a seventh-grader, prefers a traditional chair most of the time. “I like the chair because it feels like it won’t fall over,” she notes. “It makes me fidget less,” adds another seventh-grader, Hazel Valin, while with traditional seating, “You’re like always sitting all day.”
More movement incorporated into everyone’s school or workday offers solid health benefits, too. Studies by The Mayo Clinic indicate that extended sitting can be harmful to one’s health. An analysis of 13 different studies by the group found that those who sat for greater than eight hours each day with no physical activity had a similar risk of dying as individuals who were obese or smoked.
Julie says of the new seating arrangement: “It creates an environment where if you need to stretch you can, if you need to stand up, if you want to lay on the floor students can do that and continue learning.”
When the seating was first installed in the classroom, Julie offered a one-week exploration period. Students tried out the different seating and standing desk options and noted which they preferred. She then asked them to fill out a Google survey and did her best to match each student with their preferred seat.
While Julie herself prefers a traditional chair in a quiet room for learning, she’s come to see the positive effects that the alternative seating has had on students. She notes that by opening her mind to different seating options and more flexibility in the classroom it’s virtually eliminated power struggles and distractions. “I’ve been so pleased with how much it’s improved the spirit of the kids,” Julie notes. “Thanks to Moretti and RiseVT, we’re all about movement here,” she says of the Folsom Education Center.
Read about how the Highgate Library and Community Center’s community garden benefited from a RiseVT Amplify Grant last summer, bringing together a wide range of ages while providing gardening education and a big dose of fun!
Written by Virginia Holiman
What a summer in the garden it was! Our program began with the celebration of Day in the Dirt on April 27th, with adult volunteers cleaning out and preparing the garden beds for planting. A truckload of compost from Hudak’s was spread and tilled into the gardens.
On May 25th, the pre-school children learned about seeds/what seeds need, then planted the first seeds and plants in the garden and on July 1st the Creepy Crawly Garden Club started. We met three times a week for six weeks and planted seeds and plants in all the beds, identifying each and how they could be eaten/cooked/prepared. We worked on washing the vegetables (and hands) and on “using a knife” skills. Each session we created a healthy snack and did taste testing. Recipes were available to take home and share with families. Fun hands-on activities around “Eating the Rainbow”, fruit and vegetable identification, vitamins found in each, etc. were enjoyed.
Each day we watered…and watered all the plants, including the town’s plants in the park. The hot weather initiated conversations about all the hard, hot work farmers did to raise their crops for us. Each day we checked the area for “bugs”! We learned about helpful and not helpful bugs and kept a tally of bugs found in each category. (We had to use several reference books, and the internet to identify all the critters.) Each participant designed and created a papier mâché insect. We had great discussions about the use of pesticides and how we could find healthy alternatives. The kids were passionate about keeping the soil clean, and many of their designer insects were given the power to ingest poisons and turn it into “good stuff”.
We also took part daily in active games, some based around the watering and the “dreaded” weeding. New relays and cooperative games were developed around the hose and sprinkler.
Some of the garden was ready to harvest by the end of the six weeks, but the majority ripened later, so tomatoes, peppers, etc. were frozen, and the rest were picked and dug up to prepare for the Harvest Festival held on Oct. 19th. All camp kids were encouraged to bring a senior (BYOS) to share the bounty.
One of the goals of the summer program was to integrate the young community members with the seniors. We invited many older folks and a few visited the garden and the kids. Several said it was just too hot to be outside for very long. There was one senior who stayed with us for the entire program, and she was great! It was interesting to watch how the kids interacted with her, and to hear the questions they asked. She definitely established a bond with a few.
Bob Engstrom did a workshop about bees with the kids, and community members were invited. We also sponsored an evening “Putting the Garden to Bed” workshop with naturalist/author Ron Krupp on Sept. 10th and a book talk about Ron Krupp’s Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening on October 1st.
The six weeks of the garden club were very busy and went by quickly. This was an exceptionally active group of students, and they kept our senior and I hopping. I was very pleased with the level of interest and thinking that evolved, concerning the growing of fruits and vegetables, and how that effects the big picture. There were some “deep” conversations….and some really goofy ones. The children were excited to share what they had created and eaten each day when their grown-ups picked them up. Many parents reported they were “instructed” on the day’s topics and snacks in the evening and I believe the 2019 summer camp at the library was a success!
Toes were tapping and fingers were snapping last summer, when the community of Swanton enjoyed some lively music on the Village Green in a series of free summer concerts. These were hosted by the Swanton Arts Council over the course of the summer with funds from a RiseVT Amplify grant. The events were free and open to the public, occurring once a month for two hours each, and allowed local musicians to connect with community members who had the opportunity to listen, socialize, dance and share time together while enjoying the outdoors.
Music brings vibrancy, vitality and connection to communities, acting as a catalyst for community gatherings and providing opportunities for people from all walks of life to connect and enjoy. In this case, it also offered a venue for local talent to spread their musical wings and engage with other musicians and community members, weaving together positive role models, joy and affirmation within each session.
Local talent included Caleb Barrett, Scott Aaron Martell, Seth Yacavone and Eric George, who played a range of styles from blues to folk to original songs. All were charming performers, taking the occasional enthusiastic shout from passing cars in stride with a joke and generally engaging the crowd and drawing them in. They all expressed their enjoyment of the experience and shared that they look forward to performing in Swanton again.
The crowd that gathered was diverse and included residents basking in the fresh air and enjoying the music from their front lawns and porches, as well as folks from out of town – both summer residents and day trip visitors who stopped by after checking out the swans or getting a cremee nearby. They came on foot and by bike, some with strollers and some with dogs, who seemed to enjoy the shows as much as their owners did.
The Swanton Arts Council expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to offer this series to the community, highlighting the arts in Swanton, promoting the green space there and hopefully opening the door for more music opportunities and community connection in the future.
Written by Molly McGinty, Librarian, Haston Library In May, 2018, RiseVT granted the Haston Library in Franklin, VT a grant of $300 to support the activities described in our grant proposal. The Haston Library is the home of the Library’s Children’s Garden. In the spring, the children at the Franklin Central Preschool came to the Library and worked with Virginia Holiman, a children’s farm to school educator, to plant the garden with cherry tomatoes, purple beans, squash, cucumbers, radishes, peppers, green onions, kale, basil and mint. Over the summer, the children were encouraged to come to the library and water the garden. In July, the Haston Library and Ms. Holiman hosted a Fairy Homes and Tea Party, using some of the herbs grown in the garden for their herbal tea, along with having cucumber sandwiches and making fairy homes. In September, the children returned to the Haston Library for the “Harvesting the Garden.” Ms. Holiman presented a program to the children, to help children learn about how seeds grow into plants. Afterwards, everyone went outside to harvest the garden. The children thoroughly enjoyed getting into the garden and picking everything. They washed all the vegetables and then using child-safe knives, they cut the softer veggies – tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and green onions. All vegetables were put into a large cooking pot, which Ms. Holiman took home to cook into vegetable soup. The following day, the children, Ms. Holiman, and the Haston Library director met for “The Taste of the Garden,” which is a multi-generational program where the pre-school children visit senior citizens at The Homestead, which is a senior retirement complex, located in Franklin, Vermont. The residents of the Homestead and the children from the Franklin Central Preschool were seated at tables and served bowls of Vegetable Soup. The soup gathered a mixed reaction from the children. Some of them loved the soup. Some only liked the broth and some didn’t like it at all, but they all tried it. In October, the Haston Library hosted a Fall Festival/Tractor Day, which invited all residents of Franklin to the library for fun activities and a taste of some healthy, local treats. The RiseVT Smoothie Bicycle was brought to the library and was a very big hit with the children who came to the event. The volunteers couldn’t keep refilling the smoothie blender fast enough for the number of children who wanted a ride on the bicycle. The children were also invited to paint a stencil on a t-shirt while at the Tractor Day. Aside from the bicycle smoothie, this was the other big hit with the children. An assortment of sizes and colored t-shirts were available, as well as six different stencils. The children got to paint their own t-shirts with the stencil of their choosing. While the t-shirts dried, there were other active games and crafts for the children and families to enjoy. The money provided by the RiseVT Mini Grant was greatly appreciated and put to use to provide fun, entertaining, and educational programs for the children of Franklin, VT.
Pre-K Tasting the Garden
Fairy Tea Party
Enjoying the Harvest
Treasure Hunting in the Garden