By Kristine Holloran
PEPPERELL -- Cloudy skies and occasional drizzle could not dampen the spirits of more than 100 fourth-grade students at Varnum Brook Elementary School who visited a Market Day just for them on Oct. 6.
As part of Farm-to-School Month celebrations, several local farms set up on Pepperell Town Field to showcase their crops, products, meats and more as well as share information about farming, raising livestock and other interesting details about their businesses.
The faculty at Varnum Brook jumped at the chance to raise awareness about local farms, fruits and vegetables and how important local agriculture is to a community.
Eric Reardon, certified nutritionist from Crossroads to Health, kicked off Market Day with a talk in the school auditorium. The students learned about "nutrient rich" foods versus so-called "junk" foods and how making a healthy choice on a regular basis contributes to overall well-being.
Reardon emphasized that by fueling bodies with the proper vitamins and minerals, especially those found in fresh fruits and vegetables, the ability to perform well at school, sports and play significantly improves.
Reardon fielded questions from the group and addressed organic foods, natural sugar substitutes and ways to make certain vegetables taste more appealing.
Next, the group practiced an active lifestyle and walked out to Town Field to visit several stands.
Each farmstand contained information on its specific area and covered topics such as pesticide management, crop rotation, weather concerns, planting and harvesting strategies and the benefits of humanely raised livestock.
Student Jenna Desiderio tried to pick a favorite. "I really liked hearing about the alpacas, picking off the potatoes and learning about the lifecycle of a honey-bee and how they make the honey," she said.
For a truly interactive experience and to help further the conversation at home, students collected giveaways and samples throughout their visits, including some alpaca fleece, coloring pages and puzzles, honey sticks and candies, potatoes, a planted seedling, coupons for natural beef and an assortment of fruits and vegetables (apples, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, radishes, tomatoes and more).
A visit with chickens, stickers, T-shirt prizes, Healthy Habits Challenge, fast facts about Farm-to-School, a tree poem bookmark, and buying local Q&A were also among the day's activities.
Student Camden Howard summed it up. "This is just great. Thank you!"
The teachers embraced the opportunity for hands-on learning outside the classroom. Several comments suggested that any activity that engages students and furthers their love for learning is worthwhile, encourages a healthy lifestyle and is a small step against the epidemic of childhood obesity.
Each fourth-grade class as well as the school received an award from the National Farm-to-School Network in recognition of their support for Farm-to-School Month.
Market Day would not have been possible without Crossroads to Health, Dragonfly Farms, Kimball Fruit Farm, Kirk Farms, Lull Farm, Lyn-Dell Farm, Nissitissit Apiaries (Fred Farmer), the North Middlesex Regional High School Community Garden, Patriot Alpacas, PC Connection Inc., Pepperell Farmers Market, Pepperell Recreation, Robinwood Farm, Prescott Grange and davidevansportfolio.com.
For information about these initiatives, visit National Farm-to-School Network, farmtoschool.org; Farm-to-School Month, farmtoschoolmonth.org; Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom, aginclassroom.org; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, cnpp.usda.gov.