November has been a very fortunate month for the local Poughkeepsie Farm Project. During the last month, the local nonprofit organization received two large grants from other organizations to expand their programming and charitable programs within the Poughkeepsie area.
In 1999, the Poughkeepsie Farm Project was founded as a mere three acres of farmland leased from Vassar College. 16 years later, the project has expanded to 12 acres and is now managed by more than 475 workers. Since the project’s founding, one of its key missions has been to improve agricultural education within Poughkeepsie. Their website elaborates, “Whether in the field, cafeteria, or classroom, participants gain hands-on farming, gardening and cooking experiences and learn about sustainable agriculture, seed-saving, and healthy eating” (Poughkeepsie Farm Project, http://www.farmproject.org/education/, 11.28.15).
The Project has attracted the attention of multiple organizations including Helping Hand, a partnership program between United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region and the Poughkeepsie Journal. This grant was given to the Poughkeepsie Farm Project to fund its Food Share Program, which provides food to families who cannot afford full-priced items. Families that participate in this program receive weekly shares of produce grown on the farm to help feed their families. The Helping Hand grant will allow the program to give more back to the community. Education Director at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project Jamie Levato explained, “The Helping Hand grant specifically helps us provide an additional share of produce to families that are a part of our Food Share Program who have children or senior citizens in their households.” The remaining families are covered by the program itself.
Another grant was awarded in the same month, this time from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Poughkeepsie Farm Project received a grant of $100,000 to go towards its Farm-to-School Program, the project’s educational outreach into the Poughkeepsie community, to both students in local school districts as well as adults.
Some Vassar students work at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project as interns, including eight who work for Education Department programs such as Farm-to-School, a program that provides locally-produced farm-fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables to schools. One intern is Isabel Morrison ’19, who expressed her excitement about Farm-to-School’s progress so far this year. As part of its program, the project invites many students to the farm, where they host hands-on activities with the kids, such as teaching them parts of plants, how to grow their own food, what foods are especially nutritious and how to cook really great dishes with them. “This fall we really focused on reaching out to elementary schoolers,” Morrison remarked. “It’s always such an exciting process. Kids are so happy to be there. It is always so surprising when you talk to a kid and they say, ‘Oh, I love vegetables!’”
Ellie Marble ’16 is another education intern at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. She referred to school-centered efforts to bringing produce for students to try and engage them in cooking activities. “In October we saw every second grade class in Poughkeepsie,” she stated. “The kids love it when the interns come to their schools and are always excited to try their foods, which proves how profound the program has become.”
Farm-to-School is perhaps one of the most important programs carried out by the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. Levato explained, “One of our main goals is to improve the health of our community. One of the ways we do that is by getting people excited with eating healthier.” Before the program was established in 2013, Levato worked with professors to carry out a small experiment to test whether this type of program could improve the eating habits of people in Poughkeepsie. At schools, they gave kids a cup with a serving of kale, and they were asked to return the cups after they left the cafeteria, whether they finished or not. The cups were weighed before and after they were given to the kids. “Of kids that participated in our program, 63 percent finished their serving of kale…and kids who participated in our program ate five times as much kale by weight than kids who did not participate,” Levato found.
After Farm-to-School was initiated, its effects were profound. The idea behind the project is to introduce these foods to both adults and youth in a fun and hands-on way. When parents realize that they like the foods and that their kids are willing to eat it, people slowly start eating healthier by simply realizing that they like the food. This is how the Poughkeepsie Farm Project has begun to shift food culture in the community.
Vassar students have long been interns at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, and these are only some of the ways these interns have reached out into the Poughkeepsie community. “Our interns go into the schools and they are treated like celebrities,” Levato described. “We couldn’t run our programs without our interns.”
Both interns expressed their love for their job. Marble was so influenced by her work there that she plans to write her senior thesis on her job. “Honestly, I love it. I wish I had found out about the job earlier…It is something I really, really enjoy,” she said.
“It’s such a happy place to be and it is really rewarding,” Morrison exclaimed. “It has such a positive influence on the Poughkeepsie community because there is such a big socio-economic disparity and they are doing everything they can to make it better…When you reach out to children and teach them about the world and how they can make it better, you are really impacting the future.”