by Jodi LaMarco
Situated on 15 acres in the heart of the city, the Poughkeepsie Farm Project is changing the way people think about their food. Not only does PFP serve as a local CSA, it also offers a kaleidoscope of programs for children, educators, and the community at large.
Through a grant from the USDA, every second grade student in the Poughkeepsie School District takes a free field trip to the farm with their class. Other age groups from other districts can come to the farm as well, where they’re taught basic lessons about where their food comes from. “A lot of people don’t know what something looks like when it’s growing, they only know what it looks like in a grocery store,” says PFP Director Lee Anne Albritton. During farm visits, students often get the chance to pick their own vegetables, and are encouraged to get excited about eating healthy. “We have kids eating raw turnips and radishes,” she says. “We have an herb walk where we taste different herbs. Kids get so excited when they find out they can eat a flower.”
After learning about the relationship between farms and food, children are taught simple recipes they can use to prepare fresh vegetables. Some of these vegetables are new to students and parents alike. “We get phone calls from parents who say, ‘My kid was at your farm; where can I get kohlrabi?’” says Albritton.
Education Director Jamie Levato and Education Manager Ellie Limpert have also created a program to expose entire families to the delights of cooking with wholesome vegetables. The Farm Fresh Home Chef program is administered in schools, where PFP instructors show families how they can use fresh produce to cook a meal together. Vegetables for the class are provided by PFP, and participants are sent home with the same ingredients to make the recipe again in their own kitchens.
Another innovative program created by Levato shows teachers how they can use gardens as classrooms for subjects beyond nutrition and agriculture. “Jamie has helped create an applicable curriculum so that teachers can get kids outside and teach them math or social studies or drama. Teachers are just blown away by it. Last year, we had 30 teachers,” says Albritton.
PFP’s education and outreach programs are inspired by its dedication to Food Justice, a movement striving to encourage earth- and people-friendly farming practices, and provide access to quality food for all people, regardless of income. Through its Food Share program, which is made possible in part through grants from United Way and Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, 35 of the farm’s CSA shares are donated to families in need. “Our mission and our goal is to donate at least 20% of our produce. Last year, we donated a little over 35,000 pounds,” explains Albritton. The remainder of the food not distributed through the CSA is donated to local emergency food relief programs such as shelters and food pantries. “Every community should have access to fresh food,” Albritton says. “It shouldn’t be a privilege.”