Senior Daniel Robinson prepares a kale dish for the fall harvest lunch at Harwood.

A fall harvest lunch prepared by Harwood students as part of a farming, sustainability and wellness initiative was welcomed by a hungry student body.

Two years ago, Harwood received a grant from the state Agency of Agriculture to bring healthier, local and whole foods into the cafeteria and to integrate the topics of food systems, farming and nutrition into as many classrooms as possible. Last year, Tara Cariano, a school counselor at Harwood Union, received a Rowland Fellowship to focus on integrating wellness opportunities and outcomes throughout the building.

The Harvest Fest joint venture represents the next phase of Harwood’s shared vision to ensure that Harwood is a place where all students are healthy, emotionally whole and more connected to their community, both inside and outside of the building.

“This year, we invited all Farm to School (FTS) students and Youth Enriching Wellness students (YEWS) to participate in a full-day retreat at Knoll Farm. They were able to experience a firsthand connection to their community and apply their learning about farming, sustainability and wellness in an authentic way. They met with Helen Whybrow, owner of the farm, and were able to see the larger implications and possibilities of their work within Harwood,” said Cariano.

Chefs Paul Morris and Gary McCafferty did the majority of menu planning and sourcing for the meal. The lunch consisted of hamburgers and cheeseburgers from Neill Farm (Waitsfield), hand-cut roasted potatoes from Hartshorn’s Organic Farm (Waitsfield), kale Caesar salad from Hartshorn’s and Ananda Gardens (Middlesex), plus lettuce from Green Mountain Hydroponics (Waitsfield).

Cariano hoped that the event increases Harwood's connection with the community through the theme of nourishment. Students who participated in the harvest also participated in a student-run TED talk during a school assembly that discusses positive impacts to others and creating a more nourished student body.

“During our localvore lunch, we wanted to increase students’ curiosity and understanding of local food systems. At lunch, Dave Hartshorn, whose farm provided the potatoes and kale for the meal, spoke to the student body about his experience farming in The Valley, the importance of supporting local agriculture, and what nourishes him. We also ran a game called Name that VT-grown Veggie where uncommon produce grown within 100 miles of the school were displayed, and students had to guess the name of each veggie. In the end, we hoped that the afternoon would prompt students and staff to reflect on what nourishes their own mind, body and soul,” said Cariano.

After last fall's harvest, there was more student interest in participating in the Farm to School program and the Youth Enriching Wellness.

When asked why they participated in the event, students said they were interested in having an impact with their peers.

“I got involved in Youth Enriching Wellness this year. With the collaboration with Farm to School I got interested in helping out with harvest fest as well. I wanted to help with harvest fest because of the direct impact it had on me and the student body. Nutritious healthy foods are essential for maintaining energy and focus, said student Tela Haskell.

At the harvest fest assembly, the main message was about student nourishment.

Our main goal was to have the student body leaving the day feeling nourished or thinking about what makes them feel nourished. We had the student assembly band and the teacher band come up and play some really great music; then it followed with some guest speaking teachers and a TED talk about leadership and kindness. We hoped everyone would leave and bring a positive impact to someone else’s day, and to think about community and nourishment as well,” said student Charlotte Cook.

Students who participated in the harvest also hoped to encourage connection between students and their teacher advisers through discussions and fun activities.

“The purpose for the TA activity was to encourage each TA to connect through an activity that they choose together. A few of the Youth Enriching Wellness members decided what the activities were. Some activities that focused on wellness included board games and puzzles, pumpkin carving and choose your own adventure which allowed TA’s to choose an activity which was not offered originally (TA party, waffle making, movie and chill, etc.). In my opinion, every TA activity that we chose included wellness in some way,” said student Macie Whalen.

When asked what their favorite part of the harvest meal was, Cariano said it was the kale Caesar salad. Chef Morris enjoyed the Neill Farm cheeseburgers, which he said were tasty. Chef McCafferty also enjoyed hearing from local farmer Dave Hartshorn.

Cook added that the lunch was a great way for the student body to get involved with the cafeteria community as the students can appreciate what eating local looks and tastes like.

“All students really enjoyed the lunch, and eating together is also a sense of community that can build the community within Harwood. I think it is also important that we continue to support our local farmers and bring in food that everyone values,” said Cook.