educator resources

PFP Project Focuses on Environmental Justice Issues in Poughkeepsie

Chef Key leads a cooking workshop at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory.

Chef Key leads a cooking workshop at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory.

“So creative, I never thought of putting apples and sweet potatoes in the same dish!” An inspired smile spreads across the face of the woman taste testing. I can feel the excitement too, it bubbles up as I stir a pot full of finely chopped roots and fruit, seasoned with cinnamon and sea salt. There is definitely a warm, loving family energy happening on the black top of the basketball court at Malcolm X Park today. Children are dancing to the DJ’s kid-friendly hip hop, and adults from Scenic Hudson and a local mosque are leading a group on a exploration at the banks of the Fallkill Creek that flows alongside a shaded, grassy hill. MASS Design Group is also present, collecting community input about plans for accessible creekside parks.

That was the scene from last fall’s “Fall in the Park” where I offered a community cooking demonstration that was funded through NYS Department of Environmental Conservations’ Office of Environmental Justice Community Impact Grant. At the heart of environmental justice is the difficult work of ensuring that all voices are included in the making of policies for a healthier environment, particularly those from the most vulnerable communities, low income and people of color, who are disproportionately burdened with the impacts of industrial pollution and contamination. Our goals for the Community Impact Grant are to encourage city residents’ connection to nature, support existing community gardens and school gardens in ecological growing practices and cooking of local produce, as well as to increase the organic matter found in Poughkeepsie’s gardens.

The pursuit of meeting these goals has been such an incredible learning and relationship-building process. We began with Advanced Composting Workshops offered in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess County and Nubian Directions II, Inc. Local youth, PFP education staff and interns, as well as a handful of community gardeners took part. We came together before the 2018 growing season to learn the science of soil, and to do real-time soil testing. The workshops were several hours in length, and very intensive. We found that it was not the right fit for the young people taking part. Another moment of learning occurred when I tried to lead a cooking class at the Community Family Development Center on Mill St for families of the children who go there for childcare, and no one showed up. Several CFD staff members, the custodian and I chatted while gnawing on some carrots. Had they encountered this issue before, I asked. Yes was the resounding answer, and as we talked much of our conversation reminded me of the similar struggles I have listened to Poughkeepsie public school teachers name about parent engagement. It was clear: in order to do a better job of connecting city residents to the opportunities that the Community Impact Grant was supporting us to offer, we needed to be much more flexible and responsive. So I, along with Jamie Levato, the Educator Direction, began to brainstorm. How could we reach people with already limited time and energy resources where they already are rather than asking them to stretch to make additional commitments?

Farm-fresh ingredients

Farm-fresh ingredients

Chef Key offers tastes of healthy dishes prepared with produce available at the Free Farm Stand.

Chef Key offers tastes of healthy dishes prepared with produce available at the Free Farm Stand.

Chef Key leads teens in preparing some zucchini fritters.

Chef Key leads teens in preparing some zucchini fritters.

So we shifted focus off hours of content and focused on getting connected to folks where they are living, playing, or already have to go to get basic needs met. Cooking classes at Interfaith Towers senior housing were an absolute hit! Following the popular “Week in Meals” workshop which focused on making fresh foods last and making a delicious Thai Noodle Bowl, I returned in November for “Healthy Holidays” where 26 seniors enjoyed company and conversation while chopping and braising brussel sprouts, parsnip, and carrots to serve with Maple Soy Glazed Turkey Breast. We also started to do cooking demonstrations at events at local parks, housing projects, and schools. This partnership model of community engagement has led to successes like the Malcolm X Park day I described earlier, as well as our attendance at the Boys and Girls Club of Poughkeepsie Day for Kids, a playful outdoor event focusing on health and wellness which reached over 60 children living in the adjacent public housing on Smith Street. At the Morse School’s Thanksgiving celebration, where the entire community of teachers, firefighters, police officers and community leaders come together to feed hundreds of students and their families, I was invited into the school’s cafeteria to prepare fresh Kale and Apple Salad to pass from table to table.

Finally, an ongoing relationship has also evolved with the Dutchess Outreach Free Farm Stand. This free distribution of fresh produce takes place the 3rd Friday of every month. I began tabling each event during the early summer last year and have become a regular fixture at almost every distribution since. Nyhisha Gibbs, Dutchess Outreach Volunteer Administrator always manages to welcome me with a quick hug before she returns to directing the group of about 20 or more volunteers who help create the no-cost pop-up market. Long lines of more than a hundred people form well before the 2:30pm start time. Parents with strollers, seniors with rolling metal carts, and young siblings giggling together all wind their way along the parking lot at North Hamilton and Mill St, adjacent to the Family Partnership Center or, in cool weather months, stretch down the block from the Poughkeepsie Trolley Barn. There’s different produce each Free Farm Stand, so each session I create a new, creative dish to offer based on the available veggies. Greek Cucumber and Tomato Salad; Stir Fry of Snow Peas, Broccoli and Carrots; and Spinach Pasta Primavera were some of the dishes sampled by people while they waited in line for food. The Free Farm Stand radically transforms the experience of visiting a food pantry into a bustling, warm neighborhood gathering, and PFP fits right in. What a joy to fill the air with the smell of sauteing onions and chat about experimenting with familiar foods in new ways!

Teen interns get their peers excited about kale salad at Dutchess Outreach's Mobile Fresh Market.

Teen interns get their peers excited about kale salad at Dutchess Outreach's Mobile Fresh Market.

Bintou Hinds, Jamie Levato, and Ozie Williams distribute produce at Dutchess Outreach's Free Farm Stand. Photo credit: Sean Hemmerle

Bintou Hinds, Jamie Levato, and Ozie Williams distribute produce at Dutchess Outreach's Free Farm Stand. Photo credit: Sean Hemmerle

PFP interns, Alyssa, Kitana, Zoe and Olivia offer tastes of fresh curdito at the Poughkeepsie Healthy Black and Latinx Coalition's Hispanic Heritage Festival.

PFP interns, Alyssa, Kitana, Zoe and Olivia offer tastes of fresh curdito at the Poughkeepsie Healthy Black and Latinx Coalition's Hispanic Heritage Festival.

With the weather warming up, I’m packing up more PFP produce for spring cooking workshops being held at Adriance Library, Family Services, Early Learning Center and Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory. Along with the team of educators staffing our afterschool programs in all 4 elementary schools, plus the middle and high schools, the DEC EJ grant will allow us to make permanent material updates to school gardens, improving their capacity as educational spaces. While environmental justice issues are a part of the many challenges Poughkeepsie residents face along with economic injustice and complex systemic social problems, these experiences have taught me that it can be a powerful and fun experience to cooperatively create a healthier, more just Poughkeepsie.

Chef Key and Chef Dave lead cooking workshops for teens at Poughkeepsie High School.

Chef Key and Chef Dave lead cooking workshops for teens at Poughkeepsie High School.

“Wait… learning can be FUN?”

“Wait… learning can be FUN?”
The benefits of garden-based education
By Chris Gavin, Garden Educator

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One of the perks of being an educator with Poughkeepsie Farm Project is that the job turns you into a bit of a local celebrity, especially among the 5-10 year old crowd. I cannot walk into an elementary school in Poughkeepsie without being swarmed by excited kids who want to know what we’re cooking today, what’s growing in the garden, or looking for a bite of whichever fresh veggies I brought from the farm that day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a student I work with every week or simply met once on a field trip to the farm, the experience makes such an impact that they remember the lesson long after it’s over. Just today a kid stopped me in the hallway to say “thanks for making popcorn with us; it was delicious!” - and I made popcorn with his class nearly six months ago! Students from last year’s after school program still regularly ask me about the red wiggler worms in our vermicomposting bin (How’s Henry? Tell him I say hi!”) and want assurances that I’m taking good care of them. And believe me, every student remembers EXACTLY where in the garden they planted their carrot seed and wants regular updates on its progress.

When a parent finds out that their child is now in love with kale salad or has a sudden interest in helping out around the kitchen, they want to know how we did it. But there’s no magic alchemy to our work, the key is facilitating joyful educational experiences. There’s a common misconception that “real” education can only happen sitting at a desk while passively listening to a teacher dole out information. And if kids are having fun they must not really be learning, right? Our education team loves our reputation as the fun vegetable people, but that’s an oversimplification of what we do. Well-intentioned teachers and parents often think that our programs are something EXTRA that kids can enjoy once they’re done with their ACTUAL education. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret, we are doing something revolutionary. We are helping youth recognize that not only can education occur outside of a traditional classroom setting but it can also be a joyful experience that sparks a life-long love of learning.

But don’t think that just because the kids are having fun that our programs are light on content. Our work supports classroom learning by providing hands-on and student-centered lessons that reinforce academic concepts. We make what kids are learning in school more relevant to their lives by connecting it to real-world applications. Connecting food and farming to classroom content is something we do every day with students. To highlight this, here are a few of the topics we recently covered in our elementary after school programs.

  • Students learn to be scientists as we plant seeds in the classroom, making predictions about when germination will occur and observing our seedlings with hand lenses.

  • Students study history and social justice as we learn about the contributions of people of color in farming like inventor/educator George Washington Carver and farm workers’ rights activists Dolores Huerta and Caesar Chavez.

  • We reinforce math skills as students learn to properly use measuring tools as we follow a recipe or when we estimate plant spacing in a garden bed.

  • We support literacy through our love of children’s literature and by writing letters to pen pals in other garden programs in our region.

  • Students build leadership skills as they practice teamwork, communication, and learn strategies for mindfulness and self-management.

For a student participating in the Poughkeepsie Food Power after-school programs, it may seem like all they are doing is preparing a healthy snack or carefully tending to a young plant in the school garden. But through our work we are helping to lay a foundation of joy, curiosity, and a life-long love of learning. We hope that our small acts will inspire the next generation of eaters to be more caring and empathetic to themselves, their community, and the world around them. I will leave you with a quote that regularly comes to mind as I’m leading youth in our programming. Paul Cezanne said “the day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.” And I hope our work is helping us all along the path towards that day.

Poughkeepsie Food Power After-School Programs are Accepting New Students

Poughkeepsie Farm Project is running after-school programming at six schools in the Poughkeepsie City School District as a partner on their Empire State Extended Learning Time grant.

Twice per week at six schools, PFP educators engage students in garden-based learning in all subject areas through hands-on gardening and food activities. While caring for their school gardens, students conduct, science experiments, explore plant life cycles, write poetry, observe insects, prepare healthy snacks, design inventions, read and discuss literature, create art, and improve their academic and leadership skills.

If you have a student who attends PCSD who would like to take part, please download the forms below and return to your child’s school. To register elementary and middle school students, fill out the first two forms below. All three forms are required for high school students. We would love it if you also emailed scanned forms to learning [at] farmproject [dot] org or texted photos of forms to 845-475-2734.

Program Registration Form (all schools)
Enrollment Form (all schools)
Internship Application Form (PHS Internship only)

Poughkeepsie Farm Project’s Elementary and Middle School Programs
Poughkeepsie Food Power is the perfect place for your child to increase her/his academic skills in a nurturing environment. Through children’s literature and group projects, Poughkeepsie Food Power builds social-emotional skills which support school and life success. Students will build skills in all subject areas through hands-on gardening and food activities. While caring for their school garden, students conduct science experiments, explore plant life-cycles, write poetry, observe insects, prepare healthy snacks, design inventions, create art, and read and discuss high-quality children’s literature.

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Poughkeepsie Farm Project’s High School Internship
Would you like to help care for your school garden, learn to cook healthy meals, and participate in fun team-building activities? Join the Poughkeepsie Food Power Internship at Poughkeepsie High School.

  • Gain culinary skills while preparing delicious meals with garden produce

  • Build leadership and relationship skills

  • Explore career and growth opportunities in the food sector.

  • Become active members of our local food system and work to create justice, equity, and power for all eaters.

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Here are some highlights from last year’s programs:

Updated Resources for Using Gardens to Teach

Updated Resources for Using Gardens to Teach

Are you using gardens to teach?

During our Summer Institute: Using Gardens to Teach workshop we often refer to different resources to help teachers and other educators incorporate garden learning into their curriculum. Below are some of our favorite resources.