A young boy squeals excitedly as he finds yet another potato beetle and begins to pull it from the plant where it resides. Nearby, some folks pick peas and other veggies. Eggs are gathered from Stacey’s chicken coop, just down the street. Indoors, participants begin chopping and preparing all the foods needed for a delicious garden meal. Today’s menu includes steamed kale, a fresh green salad, and an egg frittata stuffed with all of the garden goodies that were freshly picked just a few moments before. As everyone sits down at the picnic tables for lunch, excitement fills the air in anticipation of tasting these new and different foods, tempered by a healthy dose of childhood hesitation. Ultimately, everyone eats, laughs, and enjoys each other’s company over a fantastic, nutritious lunch that we all had a hand in creating.
Five years ago, Stacey Oshkello, a graduate of the Keene State College Dietetic Internship Program, was searching for an opportunity to do good work in her community that would utilize her knowledge and experience in food, gardening, and nutrition. At the same time, Cold Pond Community Land Trust (CPCLT) in Acworth, NH was looking for creative ways to serve as an educational resource for sustainable and regenerative agriculture. Thus began Garden Meals, a program of CPCLT that uses community resources to educate the wider community about garden stewardship and healthy eating.
Stacey was the force that got the program off the ground, drawing from her experience as an intern at Stonewall Farm in Keene and incorporating information she gained through the University of Vermont Cooperative Extension Program for Garden Education. However, none of her efforts would have been possible without the resources, infrastructure, and organizational status that CPCLT provides. Many CPCLT residents have been involved with the program over the years as garden managers, school program coordinators, or growers of food.
Up and Running
Over the past five years, CPCLT has formed many partnerships to keep the Garden Meals program moving forward. One such partnership is with the Alstead Area Community Trust, that has generously acted as a fiscal agent for the program when applying for grants. Monadnock Family Services has covered some of the cost for meals and education on a per-child basis. Other organizations that have given the program financial support are the NH Charitable Foundation, United Way, Claremont Savings Bank, and Integrative Service Network. This last organization, based in Claremont, works with developmentally disabled adults and they have really loved being a part of the program for the past four years. Without a doubt, Garden Meals would not have been possible without the land of CPCLT on which to grow and raise the food used in the Garden Meals program along with the dedication of residents who made this education program a priority.
Garden Meals also travels to and works with area schools to provide nutrition education programming. Some of the schools they currently work with are The Orchard School, Surry Village Charter School, Charlestown Elementary, Marlow Elementary and Acworth Elementary. Garden Meals has even started a vermicomposting project at Acworth Elementary, and this past fall they were able to harvest the garden and prepare food for the school’s annual Thanksgiving feast.
Hurdles to Overcome, Planning for the Future
Travel between schools and the program’s current site—CPCLT land that has been dedicated to growing food for Garden Meals—can sometimes present a problem for staff, but a solution is on the horizon. CPCLT will soon be building a community center, which will be the future home of Garden Meals.
Another challenge the program faces is that many of the current sources of funding used to keep the program up and running could be discontinued at any time. Garden Meals has yet to find a sustainable source of funding for this important work within the community.
Advice for Others
Stacey Oshkello’s advice for others interested in starting a similar initiative:
- Involve farmers as much as possible.
- Forge relationships with teachers and schools to give your program an outlet.