Farm to School addresses food systems education and sustainability



The Pierce School gardens serve as an important educational space for Pierce School students. Members of Farm to School are working towards building another community garden at the high school to raise awareness on food production.

Hundreds of students flood the cafeteria everyday, quickly scanning their options and grabbing what they want for lunch. Yet, very few actually stop to think about where their food comes from.

The Public Schools of Brookline (PSB) recently joined the Massachusetts Farm to School Institute and launched a pilot program at the high school and the Pierce School. This program aims to bring students closer to their food systems through focusing on the cafeteria, curriculum and community.

Led by a group of staff and parents, team members of Farm to School are working on establishing collective goals and embarking on a year of training and coaching to cement Brookline as a Farm to School district.

Pierce School guidance counselor Tim Hintz said the program seeks to bring together all aspects of the sourcing and consuming of food at school.

“The Farm to School program is really a way of connecting a school system with the food supply system, whether it’s thinking about farms, the cafeteria or how we get our food. It’s really a way to see how all of those things can add up in a connected way,” Hintz said. “The idea is to understand the connection between the food and the students better.”

Hintz said Farm to School encourages school districts to think about the impacts of the consumption of food on the community.

“As Brookline is looking at sustainability, how we are getting our food in schools is really important because it’s such a crucial way that we are stewards of the earth. We need to make sure we are doing everything in a responsible way,” Hintz said.

According to Hintz, current initiatives include finding ways to source food locally and making sure schools have adequate composting systems.

Social studies teacher Roger Grande, who is largely involved in climate justice efforts, said members of the Farm to School team are also working on building a community garden with Brookline Recreation Department.

“The primary use of those gardens will be for culinary classes to grow some food and to build awareness of food production. We want to connect young people to natural systems and natural processes that we depend upon every single day,” Grande said. “We want to get students outdoors for part of their learning, as getting our own hands in the soil is incredibly rewarding and has a really transformative power.”

Hintz said in addition to providing students with education, team members also emphasized the importance of having students involved in the work of Farm to School.

“We really welcome student input because we are doing what we can to help the community and make our food system better. We know that students are the consumers of the food in the school, so it’s really important to know what students like and give students opportunities to contribute their voices,” Hintz said.

Head of Food Services Sasha Palmer said being a part of the Farm to School program means allowing the district to better understand and address problems in its current food system.

“Many items on our cafeteria menus are not able to be fulfilled because of distribution problems or labor issues. We want to use this opportunity to ensure that we’re providing healthy, nutrient dense foods in a safe and sustainable way while thinking about what damage are we doing to the environment. How can we address and help mitigate some of these damages?” Palmer said.

Amidst a student petition to advocate for more climate justice education, Palmer said Farm to School strives to transform the cafeteria into a larger learning space for students.

“The largest classroom in the school is the cafeteria. It is the only place all kids in the district go to at some point. There’s so much knowledge that can be learned inside the cafeteria,” Palmer said. “There are so many students who may be interested in fields that are associated with food but those fields are not taught in the general curriculum.”

Grande said building curriculum around the cafeteria offers additional opportunities to learn about food justice in relation to other areas of social justice.

“There’s a huge lack of questioning that happens around the food we eat. When people are thinking about power, they often have a blind spot around food. We owe a huge lack of awareness about the food system, yet it is one of the most powerful parts of our lives, not just in terms of nutrition, but in terms of issues of political and economic power and how that shapes what we do and don’t eat,” Grande said. “Food also has a huge impact on climate change and emissions. I think there is huge potential for us to open that conversation, starting with the cafeteria.”