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About the Program:

Thetford Elementary started gardening at school the summer of 2007 with the installation of seven raised beds. The concept of a holistic health from classroom to schoolyard was seeded by our school nurse at that time, Joette Hayashigawa, and has been nurtured by the entire TES community ever since.

Over the past fifteen years, our gardening program has expanded into a complete Food Loop! Each year, students start seeds, grow food and flowers, collect our food scraps for composting, and return the recycled nutrients to our gardens. Our schoolyard holds several pollinator gardens, seventeen raised garden beds, a patch of fall raspberries and summer blueberries, five apple trees, a peach tree, and two pear trees. All of the food that the students harvest is either used in the classrooms or delivered to the cafeteria where delicious fresh foods appear on our lunch trays! All of the food scraps, nearly 6000 pounds a year, are collected and are either fed to neighborhood chickens or are deposited in our hot composting system, including meat and bones.

A typical growing season goes like this:

Each winter, the fifth and sixth grade students interview our food service team to find out what vegetables we should grow to supplement our school lunch program. Students then coordinate with Cat Buxton, our garden and compost manager, to order the seeds for the whole school. Additionally, Mr. McLaughlin’s class collects seed orders from parents and school community members, for which the class receives part of the profit. Every year we use the earnings to invest into expanding our outdoor classrooms and project based education. Our most recent purchase was a maple syrup evaporator, sap buckets and lines!

Each spring, nearly every classroom starts seeds indoors for our school garden Theme Beds or Lunch Beds. The Theme Beds are for our K–2 classes. Each classroom has their own bed that is planted to a theme. Popular themes have been a Three Sisters Garden, a Soup Garden, Pizza Garden, Rainbow Sensory Garden, and Pollinator Gardens. We also have seven raised beds dedicated to our lunch program as well as our cafeteria garden, which are managed by our kitchen team). In recent years, third and fourth graders have installed new raised beds in front of the school that also supplement our cafeteria meals.

Every May and June, students design and plant their gardens and water them until school adjourns for summer.

Throughout the summer, Cat works with a team of volunteers, summer school students, and our cafeteria staff who diligently water all of the gardens and harvest summer crops for preservation.

Each fall at the start of the school year, the harvesting begins! Our fruit trees and berry shrubs provide the opportunity for engineering harvesting tools, pressing apple cider or pear juice, baking, drying and preserving fruit, and lots of fresh, healthy snacks. Our vegetable and flower gardens provide opportunities for weighing, measuring, cooking, observing, discovering, crafting and of course, eating! Our schoolyard has become its own thriving ecosystem; a place where insects, birds, animals and humans find habitat, solitude, experience joy, and where students can discover the life above and below the soil that makes our food loop complete.

In 2021, Mrs. Kendall’s classroom introduced goats into our food loop, a welcome addition! The goats improve the health of our schoolyard pasture by grazing and they help to process some of our garden waste into compost ingredients, providing regular additions of carbon-rich bedding and nitrogen-rich manure.

TES students have become compost experts over the years! Each year, we blend about 6000 lbs. food scraps with our high-carbon feedstock ingredients: goat manure, goat bedding, hay, and classroom paper towels. Our food scraps are transformed into a beautiful humus-like garden amendment: compost for our expansive school gardens! Our entire school contributes to our composting program. Every class collects food scraps and works to remove trash, including fruit stickers, before depositing them into our central collection bin in the lobby. Each semester, fifth and sixth grade classes trade duties to collect food scraps from the lobby and cafeteria and make compost deposits into our hot composting system. With each deposit, data is collected to track the volume and the general health of our living compost system. This data becomes a basis for teaching math and scientific inquiry, and is an important connection to our soil science programming.

School administrators and Farm-to-School leaders from around Vermont and New Hampshire have visited TES over the years to see our Food Loop in action. We’ve hosted students from regional schools who have requested to visit TES for a field trip to learn from our students.

None of this would be possible without the incredible supportive TES community and the Thetford community at large. Thank you all for supporting this rich work and for protecting the safety and thriving ecosystem of our schoolyard. If you’d like to learn more or become a community gardener at TES, contact Cat Buxton.

Cat Buxton


About the Teacher:

Cat Buxton is a busy cross-pollinator from in Sharon, VT focused on ecosystem resilience. Her business, Grow More, Waste Less, is empowering and connecting communities to affect positive change from the ground up. A self-described microbe geek, Cat loves to talk about bugs, soil, gardening, and composting, pretty much wherever she goes. She manages the edible schoolyard at Thetford Elementary School, weaving it into K-6 project based learning, and is a technical guide for school compost systems. She leads Land Listener workshops with the Soil Carbon Coalition, and organizes the Upper Valley Apple Corps and a host of other projects including the Vermont Healthy Soils Coalition. She consults, teaches, and presents about soil and ecosystem health to individuals of all ages and groups of all sizes.