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Farm to School

Adapting the Model: Connecticut’s Statewide Farm to School Institute

Posted by Sarah Webb
Communications Manager

Created in partnership with NOFA-VT, our Farm to School Institute is a proven professional learning model for creating lasting, whole-school change. Since 2015, our Farm to School Institute Adaptation Program supports farm to school leaders in bringing our model to their state and launch their own Institute programs, ensuring farm to school’s transformative benefits are realized in more communities across the country. 

Here, Connecticut's 2023–24 adaptation team reflects on their experience adapting and launching their first statewide Institute:

How they got started: Connecticut school teams and coaches have been attending the Northeast Farm to School Institute since 2016, which provided their leadership familiarity with the Institute model and helped develop organizational capacity within their own collaborative. In 2022, Connecticut participated in the Farm to School Institute Adaptation Program.

Organizations involved: The Connecticut Farm to School Collaborative, FoodCorps CT, and New Britain ROOTS (fiscal sponsor) are the lead organizations of the Connecticut Farm to School Institute. Planning team members include a diverse team of food system leaders from non profits, school districts and procurement specialists.

Institute status: Connecticut launched their first year-long Institute in the summer of 2023, which started with an in-person retreat at the Yellow Farmhouse Education Center in Stonington. Three school teams were selected to participate: Cheshire Public Schools, Consolidated School District of New Britain, and Ponus STEAM Academy. Planning is underway for a 2024–25 Institute.


Adaptations for Community Context

We call it an adaptation and not a replication for a reason. For farm to school programs to thrive, they must be a reflection of and integrate within the community: the students, the school culture and priorities, the local food system, and community partners. There is no one-size-fits-all program to build robust, sustainable farm to school programs; the Farm to School Institute model supports schools in building their own capacity to define what meaningful change means for them.

Here’s how Connecticut is adapting the Institute model, and the learning they’ve shared: 


Diverse Voices Added to the Planning Process

During the planning stages of Connecticut’s inaugural statewide Institute, the Collaborative “looked around the table and noticed that we all looked similar, and we needed to add some more diversity in our voices and experience to our team,” shares Lisa Lenskold, Co-Founder of Norwalk Grows and Project Director of the Connecticut Farm to School Institute.

First, the Collaborative sought out an expert: Director of DEI at Naugatuck Public Schools, who urged the planning team to place equity at the heart of every aspect of the Institute. "Theresa made it abundantly clear that centering equity should not be viewed as a complex undertaking," Lisa explains. "Our unwavering commitment to equity led us to embrace and integrate it into our daily activities. We vowed to remain receptive to learning and adaptable to change, ensuring that these shifts became intrinsic to our work, rather than an isolated effort." This approach ensures that equity is not an afterthought, but the driving force behind the Institute. 

The planning group expanded with the addition of an advisory board, which brought more educators, school nutrition directors, urban farmers, and other community members to the table to offer insight into increasing accessibility to a wider range of schools and districts. 


Connecticut Farm to School Institute participants gather outdoors for a group photo
The 2023–24 Connecticut Farm to School Institute. Photo courtesy Connecticut Farm to School Collaborative.

Coaches Embedded in Community

“We decided one of our key strategies was to add diversity and lived experiences to our coaching cohort,” explains Lisa, “We really wanted the coaches to have a connection to the school community.” The planning committee prioritized people who had a commitment to the community they would support over those who may have more formal experience with farm to school. “We looked for people that love their community. It’s really about being authentic and committed to making it happen.”

“We had been sending the same coaches  [to the Northeast Farm to School Institute] year after year,” Lisa continues. “And we thought, We have great people in our state, let’s give people that are flying under the radar an opportunity .” The Institute kicked off with four brand new coaches, “and they are GREAT coaches,” Lisa beams.

Once the coaches were on board, they had support from a Coach Liaison, Catherine Hallisey, from FoodCorps. The Coach Liaison took the lead in recruiting coaches, matching them with teams, and building those relationships, which they decided to start early on. 

“Throughout the years attending the Northeast Farm to School Institute, we noticed that oftentimes it was one team member who filled out the application for the program,” Lisa explains. “This was the same person who completed the farm to school rubric for the team — and not always with input from team members.” Connecticut opted to have the teams and their coaches meet together before the in-person retreat to think through the rubric and their values statement as a group, offering a shared understanding of the school’s baseline and a chance for the whole group. “This really benefited the teams and coaches,” Lisa continues. “They felt connected before the retreat so they were able to hit the ground running with their action plan right out of the gate. With only two days on site and commuting each day, this was a great way to maximize the time at the retreat.”


Leveraging the Success of State Grants

Recruiting teams for the year-long Institute experience is a big undertaking, and Connecticut was able to piggyback off the statewide Connecticut Grown for Connecticut Kids farm to school grant program to find interested schools. “We leveraged the success of that grant by inviting recipients of that funding to participate in our Institute,” Lisa shares. “We were able to reach out to folks that had an interest in farm to school without having to market a new idea all across the state.” 

The grant applications also offered insights into the goals and aspirations of the teams, which were used to inform Institute programming. The planning team was able to create workshops that would directly support the team’s plans for what they wanted to build in the coming year.


What’s Next for Connecticut? “We're going to forge ahead,” Lisa shares. “The work is important and we’re going to make it happen.”

See Connecticut's First Farm to School Institute


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