Written by Diana Beach
Ryan Morra’s work with Vermont Food Education Every Day (FEED) and Shelburne Farms is a model of innovative farm to school practices used nationwide. Morra has vast amounts of experience in integrating farm to school within school systems and the lives of students, especially as a former science teacher himself. He believes in experiential learning and how to understand and use an experience to create inquiry and ask questions. He believes in team building and understands that this is key to developing a strong farm to school program.
Vermont FEED, which arose from a partnership between three non-profits—Shelburne Farms, Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Vermont, and FoodWorks at Two Rivers Center—raises awareness about healthy food, good nutrition, and the role of Vermont farms and farmers in helping sustain a healthy community. They do this by helping to grow robust farm to school programs, acting as a catalyst for rebuilding healthy food systems, and cultivating links between classrooms, cafeterias, communities, and local farms. In order to accomplish these goals, Morra has recognized the necessity of long term partnerships with school districts as Shelburne Farms has been networking in this way for almost 40 years. By hosting field trips at their expansive 1,400 acre farm, providing outreach to classrooms, and facilitating professional development programs for educators and school nutrition staff, Shelburne Farms has continued cultivating a positive reputation among educators in the surrounding area while following the objectives of the Vermont FEED program.
Morra has continued deepening these partnerships as he works with schools to put action plans and efforts in place to integrate farm to school into the educational system in a multifaceted way. Within local Vermont school systems, Morra helps to grow and develop farm to school programs, provide place based education—an educational immersion of local culture, environments, experiences, and curriculum, hold workshops with individual teachers using curriculum integration as the focal area, and provide whole school team mentoring. In this way, schools create a team of support surrounding farm to school practices as each program continues to root within the school system.
When creating instrumental action plans, building a strong farm to school team and integrating farm to school concepts into curriculum is vital. Professional development courses at Shelburne Farms follow this approach through retreat-like gatherings on the farm with educators, enthusiastic community members, farmers, and hands-on volunteers. Imagine sitting, overlooking the rolling hills of Shelburne Farms and the calm waters of Lake Champlain, and having interactive discussions, story sharing, in-depth collaboration and reflection time with peers. When learning on the farm, attendees are able to engage with a working agricultural landscape and farmers and learn ways to translate it back to the community where they are from.
Within the workshops, Morra and staff take the time to infuse peer-to-peer learning, create choice and common ground for understanding, show the extensions for various activities from kindergarten through high school, and get attendees putting their thoughts into action plans and curriculum templates while still immersed in the learning setting. These are action oriented courses with the final expectation that each participant has a project or curriculum to implement. These workshops and retreats are a source of inspiration as training attendees look to replicate this model in their own community; this type of experience fosters a hands-on approach to the immense possibilities of farm to school programs.
Morra, along with his colleague Abbie Nelson from FEED and NOFA Vermont, will bring his experience and knowledge of community and team building to share during his educational session within the Farm to School track at the 20th Anniversary Georgia Organics Conference.