Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Winter Farmer on Site

   The days are getting colder (well, maybe it doesn’t feel that way right now, but it’s coming!), the darkness is reaching its peak, and the garden beds were put to rest well over a month ago. As we wait for the snow to fly, though, Laraway school students are still engaging with the garden in a different way through our Winter Farmer on Site (FOS) program. FOS winter edition is held every other week from November through April in a cozy yurt and features a different theme during each class. Thus far, students have discussed the makings and benefits of compost, dug their hands into different soil types, and created their own garden plans using colored pencils and collages. Each FOS integrates a variety of learning opportunities tailored to multiple engagement styles. We use game play, storytelling, writing, mathematics, hands on activities, and sharing circles to engage with the diverse learning styles of our students. And we have lots of fun!

Digging in the compost and looking for critters!

During our soil unit, students and staff had a "Soil Shimmy Shakedown" that consisted of passing a jar of soil and water around while busting a move to T-Swifts "Shake It Off". The results? A great visual of the different layers soil consists of- clay, silt, and sand.

Students and staff got creative with ideas for next years garden and drew up/collaged their own garden plans.

Article and photos by Ginny Cooke, Land Stewardship Americorps VISTA. 

Ho Ho Ho....Laraway School's Holiday Shop is open

      Laraway School hosts a holiday store each December containing new and gently-used items donated by staff and community members.  Items are creatively displaced as they would be in a traditional retail space.  Laraway "Elves"---teachers wearing holiday caps---stand at the ready to help students choose and wrap presents for members of their family.  There's something for everyone...a doll for a little sister, new socks for a caregiver, a coffee mug for grandpa.  Each youth leaves school with an assortment of beautifully wrapped presents for family members.
     Holidays can be a particularly challenging time for young people who've experience trauma and/or loss.  What is supposed to be a happy time can conjure memories of sadness.  At Laraway, we celebrate the holiday season in a quieter, low-key sort of way...shining a small light as winter, the time of less light, approaches.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Vermont Harvest of the Month

   How do you get kids to eat their veggies? By giving them a fun and tasty introduction of course! Laraway School has pledged to be part of the Vermont Harvest of the Month program, which highlights a different piece of produce each month and encourages schools to feature the produce through taste tests, games, cooking demonstrations, and educational activities. Over 300 schools, food markets, organizations, restaurants, and hospitals have pledged in this state-wide initiative. In November, Kale was introduced at the first Farmer On-Site of the month. Students passed around a paper bag filled with the leafy green and were asked to use one adjective to describe what they felt (or smelled!)- no peeking! After the bag had been passed around in each group, the descriptive words were looked over and the guessing began. A short talk on the nutritional value of kale, the different varieties, and potential ways to cook with it followed. At lunch that day, students got to try a Kale Pesto recipe that a youth in Laraway's Substitute Care Program whipped up. When asked what students thought of the kale pesto, the response included words like "tasty", "delicious", "yummy", and quite a few thumbs up. The month of December features Winter Squash, which was unveiled paper bag guessing game style this past week at Farmer On-Site, with taste tests and educational posters in the cafeteria to follow. We are looking forward to promoting Harvest of the Month this upcoming year and connecting our youth to new, nutritious, and tasty produce!

What's in the bag?

Kale Pesto display with Harvest of the Month poster.

Article by Ginny Cooke, Land Stewardship Americorps VISTA; photos by Ginny Cooke and Cornelius Murphy, Land Steward. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Green Mountain Farm to School Conference

      Last Wednesday, November 4, Land Stewardship staff attended the second annual Farm to School Conference hosted by Green Mountain Farm to School. The event fittingly took place at Sterling College in Craftsbury, VT, where over 70% of the school's food is procured from local, sustainable, fair trade, and humane sources via Real Food Challenge calculator guidelines. Workshops were held in the morning and included Using School Gardens as Outdoor Classrooms, in which participants were given hands-on ideas for school garden curriculum including garlic planting, bug observation, garden yoga, and the some-what challenging task of making a seed pot out of newspaper (apparently kids generally have an easier time making them than adults). Another workshop, Agriculture for Every Season, had tips on carrying land based curriculum into the winter months and included some tasty samples and butter making using a mason jar, heavy cream, and a popsicle stick. The end of the conference allowed for break out sessions, one of which focused on creating a Farm to School community of practice. Communities of practice can be defined as "groups of people who share an interest or passion for something they do and interact regularly to learn how to do it better". Laraway Land Stewardship staff are excited to be a part of the Farm to School community of practice and are looking forward to staying connected with the movement.  We are also bursting with ideas from just one day of meeting so many inspiring people and getting lots of fun Farm to School curriculum! 

Article by Ginny Cooke, Land Stewardship Americorps VISTA. Logo and photo from Green Mountain Farm to School website. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Kryptonite Soup anyone? LaraCon comes to Laraway

     Twas a few days before Halloween.  Laraway School students and staff we decked out in costumes, with more than a few Super Heroes represented.  Stations were set and ready with art and learning activities.  Cafeteria staff were busy preparing a special LaraCon menu of Kryptonite Soup, Batman Burgers and Cat Woman Carrots. There were spidery Spiderman Cookies, too. Costumed administrative staff were ready to dish out candy to a Halloween Parade of Trick-or-Treaters.
     "LaraCon is a celebration to raise awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular art forms," said Jenn LeBlanc who coordinated the event.  "It's a way to celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture."
     LeBlanc worked with fellow teachers to design LaraCon after similar, larger events held around the globe.   Atlanta has MomoCon.  Connecticut has ConnectiCon.  Massachusetts has Anime Boston.  Houston has Delta H Con.  Rhode Island has Rhody Con.  Laraway School now has LaraCon!
     Vermont-based, best-selling author Kane Gilmour ( and highly-regarded illustrator Matthew Sylvester ( took time out to participate in the event.  Kane wowed everyone with his engaging talk  about creating comics inspired by established literature.  Sylvester put pen to paper, creating sketches of the kids and signing his mini-masterpieces.
Matthew Cameron donated over 150 comic books for our students and Dale Rock facilitated the donation.  
     Linking learning activities to fun is a great way to engage young people in learning.  Many hands came together to create a special and wonderful day for our students.
     "This should happen every year!!" one of our students said.  Yes, it should happen every year.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Jason Chin to visit Laraway School

     Awarding-winning children's author and illustrator Jason Chin will meet with Laraway School students on Friday, November 6th.  His latest book, Water is Water, is about the water cycle.  His earlier books, Gravity and Island: A Story of the Galapagos, were designated, respectively, as 2014 and 2013 Gryphon Honor Books by the Center for Children's Books.
     Chin's visit to Laraway School will include reading to students, talking with them about his writing process, and real-time illustration.  The event will conclude with a book giveaway.  Each student who attends will receive a brand new book to take home.
     Laraway is a recipient of a Children's Literacy Foundation (CLiF) Year of the Book Grant.  Chin's visit is one in a series of literacy activities planned for the 2015-16 school year.  We are very excited about this partnership with CLiF.  For more information on CliF, please visit  To learn more about Jason Chin, please visit

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Painting Pumpkins and Celebrating the Harvest!

What our students said:
"I'm thankful for the fun games we have played together, and all the laughter."
"I enjoyed spending time outside, digging my hands in the soil."
"I'm thankful for the hard work we put in, and all the fresh veggies we got out of the garden."
"I think the raspberry bushes were my favorite."

     Harvest Fest, a three-day extravaganza celebrating our relationship with the land, returned for its third year.  Laraway staffer Jess McCoy spearheaded the event which was held at our Johnson campus on October 19th, 20th and 21st.
     "I think it's important for staff and students to connect with nature and our beautiful natural environment right out of the back door," McCoy said.  "It's always beneficial for students to work with their hands, and to see a sense of return in their work and process."
      Harvest Fest offered a full schedule of activities for students to engage in.  Preparing our gardens and orchard for winter rest included pruning trees and planting garlic deep in fertile soil.  We'll be repaid by tree blossoms in spring and garlic scapes for eating in summer.
     Students pressed fresh cider, gleaned from neighbors' orchards, repaying their generosity with a quart of the sweet stuff.  They even set up a "Free and donations welcomed" cider table at the top of our driveway along Route 15, giving locals and leaf peepers a chance to bring home a fresh half gallon.  
     School teams traveled to Valley Dream Farm in Cambridge where---as a community service activity---they picked and packaged 72 bunches of kale.  This proved a great way to demystify this super-healthy, sometimes underappreciated leafy green.
     "I learned that, even though I would prefer to work on a dairy farm, all farmers work very hard to be successful," one of our students said.
     Laraway offered a Harvest-themed obstacle course, cider donuts and a seasonal poem read by Greg Stefanski, our Executive Director.   Students worked with land steward staff to harvest turnips and potatoes from our gardens.  They then headed to our campus kitchen to wash, cut and cook their veggies, transforming them into healthy and hearty "fries."   
     Not to be outdone, Laraway's cafeteria staff prepared a special harvest meal featuring items from our garden.  The menu included butternut squash soup, roasted vegetable stew, homemade carrot cake and loads of veggies in the salad bar.  Throughout the growing season, kitchen staff incorporated hundreds of pounds fresh picked veggies.
     Harvest Fest truly is a chance to connect our students to the land, to the food they eat, and to the fun activities that define autumn in Vermont.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Unexpected Gifts


     The PEZ candy dispenser, shaped like a bunny, was passed around at a recent Laraway Development Committee meeting.  Bunny in hand, participants took turns answering the question: "Reflect on a gift you received---tangible or intangible---from working with the kids at Laraway."
     "So many of our kids want to be anonymous," a case manager said.  "When kids give me their school picture, it feels really special.  It's a sign of trust.  Sometimes we work with kids who've experienced the darkest places.  I've learned from them that, even in the darkest places, you can find light.  You're still able to experience beauty and love...and recover."
     "Patience is hard to come by, but valuable.  If kids are patient and resilient, they can find what they're passionate about," a school staffer said.  The gift is in witnessing healthy transformations and growth among the children and families we serve.
     "The work I'm doing now (helping kids find jobs in the community) is a gift," another school staffer said.  I'm able to work with kids at a point at which they're ready to give back to their community."
     The bunny, too, was a parting gift from a Laraway youth transitioning to independence.  There was no candy inside---this did not detract from the sweetness of the gesture from a young person walking a road toward healing and independence.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Americorps at Laraway!

Our new AmeriCorps VISTA Ginny Cooke at work in the fields!

This article was originally written for the Vermont Youth of Tomorrow (VYT) AmeriCorps newsletter:

  My name is Ginny Cooke and I am serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Laraway Youth and Family Services. Laraway is located in rural Johnson, VT and is a non-profit dedicated to serving youth and families in the state through strengths-based approaches and therapeutic methods. Laraway offers a special education K-12 school, a residential foster care program, and an after-school program. The Laraway offices and school are located on 39 acres of formerly agricultural land. One goal of the organization is to use the land as a tool for healing and personal development for the youth in their programs. My position as a VISTA is to help develop programs that connect youth to the land and maintain the ½ acre onsite farm.
   Upon graduating from Clark University in Worcester, MA two years ago with a degree in Environmental Studies, I had a yearning to travel and discover new horizons (aka head west!). I had fallen in love with farming during my college years volunteering on urban farms and decided to continue learning more about growing plants through farm work trades. I ended up in the mountains of Northern California, the Hawaiian island of Kauai, and an old mining town turned adventure destination in the bush of Alaska, planting seeds and harvesting veggies all the while. After two years of feeding my wanderlust, I felt compelled to get back into non-profit work, another love I had found in college organizing a campaign with Real Food Challenge. I had heard about the Ameriorps program from friends and family who participated and decided to look into some of the position descriptions. Lo and behold, a position that combined my desire to return to the non-profit world and my love of gardening appeared and I found myself in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
    One of the reasons I am so interested in growing food is that I see it a very empowering and healing activity. There is a lot of disconnect between people and the food we consume in our modern society. Through my year of service at Laraway, I hope to help the youth in our programs gain a sense of connection to their food and feel competent growing their own gardens. With food insecurity and physical as well as mental health being so closely tied to issues of poverty, I see my position as a bridge for youth to access healthy foods and recreation that hopefully they can carry on into adulthood.


AmeriCorps engages more than 75,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country. Learn more at

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Garlic is for HEROES

Shallots are for babies;
Onions are for men;
Garlic is for heroes

     What to do on a rainy September day at Laraway?  With our fields and garden doused with heavy rain, a handful of students from Laraway School convened in a small conference room with our Land Steward and AmeriCorp volunteer to trim and snip some of the 500 heads of garlic harvested from our garden.  These tasty, aromatic bulbs are wending their way into our cafeteria and the kitchens of the families we serve, enhancing and fortifying meals.
      The room smelled of garlic which wafted into the hallway----smelling a bit more like an Italian restaurant than a school.  One expected a waiter to whoosh by with a steaming plate of garlicky pesto on pasta. Students chatted as they worked while carefully navigating the bulbs and stems with clippers.
     Garlic, it can be said, IS for heroes.  Our youth, it can also be said, are heroes who---despite significant challenges in their daily lives---make it to school to learn, to grow and to occasionally snip and clip garlic.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Farmer on Site at Laraway Farm

   Getting your full serving of veggies isn't too hard these days at Laraway. Every Wednesday, Laraway School students spend the morning working with the land at our on-site farm, a program called Farmer On-Site. Each class completes a specific farm task. The past few weeks have been focused on bringing in a bountiful harvest. We have collected over 800lb of potatoes, beets, onions, beans, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, cabbage, squash, and elderberries- a pretty significant increase in production from previous years! Youth, school, and land steward staff have started the mornings with a check-in and quick game (we have been focusing on name games so far for the beginning of the year). Instructions are given and then everyone participates in garden tasks. The groups have ended with washing and weighing produce on our brand new scale, using their math skills to add up how much of each veggie was picked. Sometimes the kids will also carry their harvests directly to the kitchen, where our kitchen staff turns them into tasty breakfasts and lunches. YUM!

Article and photos by Ginny Cooke, Land Stewardship Americorps VISTA

Beautiful, bountiful, beets

A day's harvest

One BIG beet

A medley of green and purple string beans

Quite the carrot!

What 1.4lb of carrot looks like

Harvesting cabbage

Cabbage bounty
Squash art

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Laraway Staff presents at Children's Literacy Foundation Conference on September 18th

               Julie Landry, M.Ed., Director of Laraway School, will present a workshop on “Emotional and Learning Challenges” at the CLiF Conference for Rural Librarians to be held at the Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction on Friday, September 18th.
     “I’m excited about our partnership with CliF and the opportunity to speak with librarians about this population of students,” Landry said.
     CLiF is an independent non-profit organization founded in 1998. Its mission is to nurture a love of reading and writing among low-income, at-risk, and rural children in New Hampshire and Vermont. For more information, visit or email
     Laraway Youth & Family Services is a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying and building on the strengths of children and youth with emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges, through alternative education, therapeutic foster care and public school based behavioral intervention supports.  For more information, visit or email

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

SERVE Local Volunteers Lend a Hand

If there's one thing we know about the Laraway gardens, it's that volunteers are worth their weight in compost. On Friday, September 4, four volunteers from Johnson State College's SERVE Local program came to help weed the perennial bed located at the front of Laraway's property. The bed includes a variety of regenerative and tasty plants including a few apple trees that are bearing fruit for the first time this year, currants, apple mint, bee balm, and comfrey. Unfortunately, it was hard to tell that these plants were living there under a summer's worth of weeds. The volunteers spent an hour and half weeding the bed, discussing herbal remedies and weekend plans. By the end, there was a wheel barrow full of unwanted greenery and a significantly tidier garden. Thank you so much to our volunteers for taking the time to help us out!

Article written by Ginny Cooke, VYT Land Steward Americorps Member
Photos by Sarah Golden

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Laraway co-sponsors Lamoille Valley Career and Job Fair


The public is invited to attend the Lamoille Valley Career and Job Fair to be held on Thursday, September 24th, 2015 at the Green Mountain Technology & Career Center on the campus of Lamoille Union Middle/High School in Hyde Park.  This event is free to attend and open to 11th  and 12th grade students from area high schools and the general public.  While the Job Fair is open from 12 noon to 4 pm, the preferred time to attend for students is 12-2 pm and for the general public, 2-4 pm.          

Admission is free and open to the public!

     The Career and Job Fair provides an opportunity for job seekers to speak with a number of local businesses and explore a variety of careers in a short period of time.  Job seekers are encouraged to bring copies of their resumes, meet with professionals in our Job Fair Resource Area before attending meeting with employers.  They can take advantage of this chance to put their qualifications directly into the hands of local employers who are looking for employees.  Job seekers will find opportunities from entry level to advanced positions in a wide variety of fields.   For ongoing updates, leading up to September 24th, please log on to our website: and monitor our event Facebook page: 
      New this year will be Panel Discussions geared toward students from local high schools.  Area professionals will present information and answer questions about a range of industries.  Students plan to sign up before the Career & Job Fair for one of 8 topics which include: 
  •  Preparing for and Succeeding at a Career & Job Fair
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship:  Taking a Good Idea and Running With It
  • Careers and Employment Opportunities in the Growing Vermont   Agricultural Industry-It Includes Farming but Offers So Many More Opportunities
  • Do You Have a Desire to Help People?  Opportunities in Healthcare and Human Services
  • Want to Use Your Mind and Your Hands?  Check Out the Many Great Careers in the Skilled Trades!
  • Do You Like to Design, Create and Build?  Careers Using Your Creative Interests and Energy  (Maker Space, IT, Engineering, Marketing/Design)
  • Careers Connecting Customers to the World Around Them—Opportunities in Hospitality, Culinary, Marketing and Sales!
  • Higher Education and Employment—Connecting the Dots.

     After attending a Panel, students will proceed into the exhibit area to connect with area businesses. 
      The growing list of businesses and organizations participating this year include: Copley Hospital, Creative Workforce Solutions, Edward Jones, Rich Jacob Financial Advisor, Green Mountain Transit Agency, Hannaford, Home Instead Senior Care, Laraway Youth & Family Services, Lamoille County Mental Health Services, Lamoille Economic Development Corporation, Lyndon State College, MEI Electrical Contractors, New England Culinary Institute, Shaws, Smugglers' Notch Resort, State of VT Department of Personnel, Stoweflake Resort & Spa, Strategies for College Inc., Trapp Family Lodge, Union Bank, Vermont Technical College, VT Society of Land Surveyors, Washington County Mental Health Services, and more.
      Thank you to the event sponsors: Smuggler’s Notch Resort, Union Bank, Laraway Youth and Family Services, Creative Workforce Solutions and Lamoille Economic Development Corp.
      For more information please contact DJ Masi, Business Account Manager, Creative Workforce Solutions, Lamoille Region at 802-793-8309 or

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gallery Space: Finding History in Unexpected Places


     History resides in unexpected places.  Staff and youth at Foote Brook House, Laraway's micro residential program in Johnson, understand this.  They organized an art and photography show featuring scenes from cemeteries and cemetery-themed art.
     Images from rural Vermont cemeteries appear beside those from the National Historic Park at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.  There's even a hand-drawn image of that Master of  Macabre, Edgar Allan Poe.
     A youth in the program put pencil to paper, creating a fascinating depiction of a gravestone of a former Mason whose surname was Butler.  Asking the youth about his work prompted the question, "Which hand is your 'masterpiece' hand?"
     This query caused the youth to pause as a clarifying question was asked:  "Which hand do you create art with?"
     "My right hand," he said as he smiled.
     This prompted an informal discussion among this youth and others about each's masterpiece hand and what they create with it.  The Righties outweighed the Lefties.  The expressions of creativity spanned painting, drawing, photography and even textile crafts.
     The exhibit it up thru September 7th in Laraway's Gallery Space.  Private viewings can be arranged by contacting Katherine Stamper, KatherineS@Laraway,org or (802) 635-2805 x 106.

Photo Credit:  Stephen Dick

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Bridge to Somewhere: Yestermorrow at Laraway


     Laraway's playground has a new addition to greet our students when they return to campus from summer vacation:  a beautiful footbridge donated to Laraway via a special partnership with the Yestermorrow Design and Build School in Warren, Vermont.  
     Yestermorrow, founded in 1980, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose stated mission is to inspire people to, "...create a better, more sustainable world by providing hands-on education that integrates design and craft as a creative, interactive process."
     Cornelius Murphy, Laraway's Land Steward, intentionally sought out this partnership given our agencies' shared commitment to providing non-traditional hands-on learning. The footbridge, built by a Yestermorrow class, serves as a lovely and welcoming gateway to our playground. It passes over a small drainage area full of wildflowers.  The bridge's built-in bench invites one to sit down for a rest while taking in expansive views across our property.  Thank you, Yestermorrow!
     For more information on Yestermorrow, please visit

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Kids Need to Summer, Too

Note:  This article appeared in the August 11, 2015 edition of the News & Citizen:

     “I love my job because it gives me the room to be creative,” said Lisa Rock, Food Service Coordinator at Laraway Youth & Family Services in Johnson. “I like being able to offer students fresh food, made from scratch---a good meatloaf, a fresh garden salad.”
     There is a much more practical side to Rock’s creative feats in Laraway School’s kitchen:  over ninety percent of the children and youth served by the agency qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch, per federal guidelines. That is a lot of children to feed during the summer and school year.
     Located on a thirty-nine acre farmstead, Laraway staff and students cultivate gardens that produce vegetables, herbs and fruits for use in the cafeteria.
     “I have fresh parsley that is beautiful,” Rock said. “It was just picked today.” She harvests from her kitchen garden daily throughout the growing season, adding fresh basil, oregano and dill to meals.
     Beets are growing particularly well this summer with varieties including Bull’s Blood, the Italian heirloom Di Chioggia, and in a seeming nod to Laraway’s Michigan-born Executive Director, the Detroit Dark Red. Mesclun greens land on lunch plates while garlic scapes are transformed into creamy pesto for pasta.
     “I like being able to introduce kids to foods they may not have had before,” Rock said.  Quiche and jicama fall into this category.
     Engaging youth in the growing of the food served in the cafeteria is a great way to teach about self-sufficiency and healthy eating while cultivating broad palettes. Students are also learning about canning, capturing summer’s flavor for another time.
     Hunger Free Vermont states on their website that thirteen percent of all Vermont households are food insecure. Nineteen percent of Vermont children live in food insecure homes. Statistics are even more troubling for Lamoille County where an estimated one in four children experiences food insecurity.
     To counter this reality, Hunger Free Vermont supports summer food sites across Vermont, providing children in vulnerable food situations access to free, quality meals. For a listing of food sites in Vermont, visit For more information on Laraway, visit   


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sprout and About: Breath mint anyone?

Laraway is now the perfect destination in case of a Vampire apocalypse. Students from our School and Backpack programs harvested over 400 bulbs from the garden during week 4 of summer program. While the garlic scapes were a treat themselves, they were only a preview to the possibilities of the garlic bulb. 
Garlic may be well known for its ability to fend off Dracula, but it has actually been used medicinally and spiritually for thousands of years. In many cultures it was considered an apotropaic symbol meant to deter evil spirits, and was displayed in windows, doors, or as part of shrines. Besides being known for its strong presence (it’s also known to ward off deer, insects and a variety of pests as well), garlic has been associated with having a variety of biological effects (besides terrible breath). Garlic is high in nutrients & antioxidants but low in calories and is known to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, help fight off Alzheimer’s disease, improve cholesterol levels and remove heavy metals from the body. It was even used during the World Wars as an antiseptic!
While we won’t be using the Laraway Garden garlic on any open wounds, it will find many different uses. Most of the garlic is being cured in preparation for future kitchen use while roughly 135 bulbs will be used as seeds for next season and to hand out at the recognition ceremonies for Backpack and School, marking the end of our summer program. Slightly immature and damaged bulbs have also been put aside for pickling for storage next to the green beans and scapes. We can tell you how they come out in a couple weeks, but you may want to listen from a few feet away. 

Submitted by Hannah Bober, VYDC AmeriCorps State member

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sprout and About: Weeding through the Goods!

Salad bar beets, full of taste and healthy pride.
What's your favorite veggie, and what's your favorite way to prepare it? This has been the question for many a young farmer to deliberate upon during week 4 of summer programming whilst assisting in the relentless weed removal. With the beginning of August fast approaching, summer reminds us that it is a fleeting and fast paced season for many northern New Englanders. The long days encourage you never to blink away a moment, and the incessantly enlarging peas second the notion. But blink the Laraway kitchen has not, for they have been packaging and processing all the young farmers have been harvesting, which includes over 50 raring to be eaten beets. While not always the easiest to deal with, beets provide nutrients (and deliciousness!) throughout their whole. The greens easily replace a kale or spinach in a recipe, and the namesake root is relatively versatile depending on tastes. While often seen in boiled form in salads, or pickled as in the kitchen choice pictured, we had several adventurous youth try a raw beet freshly washed. While it didn't seem to be a favorite among the red mustard leaves, carrot, and peas options, it was described as "sour and crunchy." It does provide many of those eyesight enhancing nutrients that carrots are praised for, as well as the iron found in other leafy greens, so find a recipe of your choosing! Even the purple stains are worth it.

Submitted by Hannah Bober, VYDC AmeriCorps State member

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sprout and About: If You Cant Take the Heat... Avoid the Spicy Greens

Since the snow has melted and the beds were prepped, there has always been something to pick in the Laraway gardens. Thankfully it’s expanded recently to include things other than weeds and those pesky potato bugs! The 3rd week’s summer programming featured one of the first groups focused on harvesting for the kitchen. While the lunchtime salad bar has had a pretty strong supply of freshly picked greens since June, students helped to supplement it this week with multiple trays of snow and snap peas. Not to be outdone, the zucchini plants produced several fruits at an alarming alacrity. Many vegetables lose nutrition over time after being removed from the plant due to their continued respiration, so the kitchen staff have been doing their best to take advantage of the fresh produce as it’s ready. This turns into quite a feat when you consider the requirements of keeping over 60 active students (and the staff) energized through the summer heat. Even with all the planning and creativity available, there are still times when some harvests have to be processed for the future. Luckily for the remaining garlic scape crop, school director Julie Landry is an experienced canner and pickler. Below are pictures of the adventure, preserving our fresh harvest for months to come!
Photo courtesy of Julie Landry

Photo courtesy of Julie Landry

On a similar note, be sure to stay tuned for our up and coming berry muffins! This month, according to the three local Vermont partners that make up the VT Harvest of the Month program, is Berry Month! Some of our young students have been exploring the berries we have available on campus (including those nutrient dense currants!) and will be making muffins at summer’s end. Previous Laraway VISTA Marcella Houghton led the students on a campus berry tour this past week, and it’s assured these muffins will be a creation you don’t want to miss!
Photo courtesy of Marcella Houghton

Submitted by Hannah Bober, VYDC AmeriCorps State member

Friday, July 10, 2015

Sprout and About: Perennials and Pie Promises

Many a smiling face turned to the sunshine during the second week of summer program, as the rains subsided (most of time) to a few hot and humid days. Our students weathered the weather and worked hard on several different projects around campus including tree mulching and staking, vegetable garden upkeep, and perennial bed maintenance. The perennial bed in front of our school building has been running more than amuck since early spring, but students have turned it into a beautiful and very recognizable home to apple trees, currant bushes, monarda (also known as bee balm), baptisia, black-eyed susan, lilies and several other flowering plants, including mint. The kitchen has even harvested some of the mint to use in future recipes. The perennial beds do double duty in more ways than just mint though. The black and red currants (both old and newly planted) have nice edible fruit, good for both using in recipes and eating off the bush. Currants (the black more so than the red) are well-known for their nutritional and medicinal benefits, with a demonstrated ability to defend the body against cancer, aging, inflammation, and neurological diseases. They also have one of the highest anti-oxidant ratings of any fruit, are high in vitamin C and provide essential nutrients & minerals that are missing from most people’s diets. Our apples are in their first year of producing fruit and although the young trees don’t yet have branches sagging from the weight of a good harvest we can imagine a year of Laraway’s own apple pies, jams and our annual cider-press. For now, we can enjoy the colorful and much more elegantly coiffed garden, no imagination necessary.

Submitted by Hannah Bober, VYDC AmeriCorps State member
Bee balm in the garden

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sprout and About: Get out the Mud Boots!

Although thoughts of summer usually accompany an image of a sun shining bright, the first day of summer programming at Laraway instead featured a flash flood warning. The afternoon alert didn’t stop students and staff from kicking off Farmer on Site though! Each week the Farmer on Site program will feature a different activity for the student groups, all focused around land stewardship and outdoor education. While some mornings are beautiful, the first day decided to test the spirits of the outdoor adventurers.
Rain coats were donned and some hands got muddy as students gathered to check out the garden, pull out some tenacious weeds from the squash bed, and add mulch to the newly planted plum and black locust rows. In a show of efficiency, the group had a system of wheelbarrow rotation that even Henry Ford would be proud of.  As handful by handful of mulch was placed around the base of the trees, the sprinkles continued. The garden (and weeds) have especially enjoyed the very rainy past month we’ve had here, and the Living Willow structure is delighted enough to start showing some leaf buds! 
While the weather decided not to cooperate in the most conventional of ways, the beauty of the rain reflects in Laraway’s garden and freshly mulched young trees.

Submitted by Hannah Bober, VYDC AmeriCorps State member

*Sprout and About is a summertime segment in addition to Laraway Happenings focusing on the goings-on of campus throughout the season. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A day filled with rainbows, unicorns and glitter

     What color do you choose...Blue?  Red?  Green?  Purple?  What number do you choose?  One, or  eight, or something in between?
     Laraway Youth & Family Services' Child and Family Therapist, Margaret "Mag" Sladyk-Benoit, MSW, LICSW, engages many interesting "conversation starters" when working with young people in our programs.  A visit to her office reveals art supplies, games, cards and a sand table just waiting for busy hands.
     The homemade Paper Fortune Tellers caught this visitor's eye when visiting Mag in her office.  These simple paper contraptions are thought to have originated in Asia, home to origami paper crafts.  They first appeared in Europe in the 17th century.  The Trihexaflexagon---yes, this is its formal geometric name---continues to entertain children across Asia, Europe and North America.
     They go by many names:  snapdragon, cootie catcher, chatterbox, salt cellar, whirlybird, flipper and scrunchy.  The names don't matter.  The messages do.  Mag's designs are emblazoned with simple messages of affirmation---revealed after the counting and shifting of paper---for children and youth striving to find their place in our world.
     "Your day will be filled with rainbows, unicorns and glitter."
     "You are a strong person---stay focused on your goals."
     "Believe in yourself.  Believe in who you are.  Stand up for what you believe."
     "Say something nice about yourself."
     "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
     "Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath.  Talk about something or somebody who makes you happy."
     "Tell about one good deed you have done today."
     "You are awesome---don't forget that!"
     It's from these conversations that Mag and her colleagues are able to help children address the challenges they face while finding positive ways to move forward.



Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Chutes and Ladders

            The British play a game called “Snakes and Ladders” which we call “Chutes and Ladders” in the United States. Many of us grew up playing this seemingly simple board game.  It's based on the ancient Indian game of Moshka-Patamu. The “play” serves as a metaphor for life, integrating ideas of virtue, vice and reincarnation. The Victorians adapted the game to its modern version.
            Our life journeys can sometimes feel random, with unexpected twists. We take a step forward. We stumble. We fall. We slide down a chute---losing leverage, power, or station. We pick ourselves up and move on. Someone gives us a boost onto a ladder, leading to new and unforeseen places. Sometimes it’s our hand lending support to a fellow climber.
            At Laraway, we work with children and youth who've experienced stumbles along life's road.  Whether the challenges relate to family struggles, mental health issues or learning challenges, our approach is to support the whole child...and their family.  We stand ready to lend a hand.  We share this journey together.  We are all climbers.