Conservation Currents

Promoting Local Agriculture

March 2010

by Shelly Stiles

More and more, Bennington County residents know of the farming life only what they see from their car windows. Yet agriculture is a big part of who we are and what we do here. Some of our neighbors want everyone to know how farmers contribute to our economy and the shaping of our landscapes, and want to help them continue to make those contributions.

The Farmer Correspondence Program, sponsored by the Northeastern Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), represents one such effort. Its goal is to beef up the curriculum of kindergarten through eighth graders in ways that create and grow ties to the land – by introducing kids to farmers, and farmers to kids.

In the program, farmer pen-pals write to students in a neighboring school four times a year – in December, January, March and May. If you’re a farmer, you choose the grade level you want to interact with, and you choose the subject matter you’d like to write about. For your efforts, you’ll receive the satisfaction of exciting the minds of young people, and a small stipend.

If you’re a teacher, the program will match you and your classroom with a willing farmer pen-pal according to your interests and educational needs. You may use the farmer letters as you wish – to reinforce math skills, kick-start a writing assignment, in an art project – whatever best suits your students’ interests and your curriculum.

NOFA-VT will take care of the matchmaking, of finding the right farmer for the right teacher. It will give farmers tips on writing for their chosen grade levels. And it will generally troubleshoot for both farmers and teachers.

The 2009-2010 school year’s program is already up and running, serving about 125 farmers and 150 classrooms around the state. NOFA-VT and the Bennington County Conservation District (BCCD) are recruiting farmers and teachers now for the 2010-2011 school year. If you’d like to learn more about the Farmer Correspondence Program, contact BCCD or Scout Proft, Bennington and Rutland County NOFA Farm to Community Mentor (and educator and farmer) at Someday Farm in East Dorset at 802-362-2290. The program is open to both organic and conventional farmers.

The Shires Farm and Food Network is a newly formed, at this point very casual group of people dedicated to promoting the use of local food in Bennington County – growing it, eating it, understanding its central role in our futures. Among the Network’s early priorities are creating a county-wide local food directory, expanding our farmers markets, and implementing the motto: Every School Has a Garden. Interested folks from both the South and North Shires can contact BCCD, which will pass your call or email on to the Walloomsac Transition Forum, a sponsoring organization. And look for an announcement of a new local foods directory sometime this growing season!

Shelly Stiles is the district manager of the Bennington County Conservation District, whose mission is promoting rural livelihoods and protecting natural resources in southwestern Vermont.

This column appeared in the Bennington Banner in March 2010, as one of the BCCD's Conservation Currents pieces, a bi-weekly feature written by BCCD board and staff members since August 2006.