Teachable Moments

While working in a women’s shelter in remote northern Thailand, Kate Albero came to realize two things about herself that would lead her to the John F. Kennedy Magnet School in Port Chester, N.Y.

The first was that she liked to teach, which came to her while giving the women English lessons. Her main job, though, was helping them develop a sustainable agriculture program. “In Thailand, the government is trying to change farming practices,” says Kate. “They’re setting up seed banks, advancing permaculture principles and don’t use GMOs. I learned by being thrown into it.”

And so, the second thing Kate realized was that she wanted to continue to be part of this better approach to farming and feeding people. As a student at the University of New Hampshire, she’d lived in a house with backyard gardens and had volunteered at the UNH garden, but seeing the destitute Thai women engaged in learning new methods and growing their own food crystallized this idea for her: “I believe very much in bringing healthy food to everybody. It’s not just for privileged people.”

Back home in New York and three years after her return to the States, Kate had her teaching degree and a third-grade class of her own at the JFK Magnet School, where three-quarters of students receive free or reduced-price lunches. Kate readily threw herself into the school’s partnership with Stone Barns Center. Every year, some 150 JFK third-graders come to the farm to take part in our school programs.

“They’re in awe of the farm,” says Kate. “Port Chester is a very densely populated area, and for them to see wide-open areas is amazing. Before our trips, we look at the farm on Google Earth. It’s hard for them to imagine green spaces.”

Seeing the kids’ excitement walking among chickens and tasting just-picked snap peas, Kate realized what a big difference good nutrition and well-grown food could make in their lives—and she wanted to do more to deepen that connection. Working together with staff from Stone Barns and three other teachers, Kate launched JFK’s after-school Garden Club for 24 third-graders this past spring. They planted and tend four raised beds, a greenhouse and the perimeter of an atrium, trying to mimic what is grown at Stone Barns and how it’s grown in rotations to maintain soil health.

“When we take the after-school kids to the farm to spend time with Farmer Jack [Algiere], they have so many more questions for him because they have a frame learn where your food comes from of reference from their own garden,” she says. “You’d have thought they’d met a celebrity; some want his autograph!”

Garden Club students keep journals and data records and were given FlipCams to document their journeys as farmers. Eventually, they will make a public service announcement on healthy eating aimed at other children and the community. In time, the school will expand the program to reach fourth and fifth graders as well.

“There are a lot of gaps in our society between healthy food and who can access it,” says Kate. “I feel like every time I go to the farm, my mind is opened to thinking about sustainable agriculture in a different way. I get a little closer to how we can bridge this gap and how to be a food citizen.”