Forging a Partnership Around Sustainability

Sharing a common goal, The White Mountain School and the Stone Barns Center for Food And Agriculture recently formalized a partnership based on developing the next generation of environmental leaders with a focus on food and food systems. At White Mountain we believe that true education should do more than inform; it should inspire. Courses focusing on integral aspects of global sustainability—economy, natural environment, social equality, and personal well-being—help students become informed, thoughtful, and active stewards of the changing ecosystem. Sustainability topics are infused across the curriculum and White Mountain integrates sustainable practices into daily life through community service, recycling/composting, and job programs.

Stone Barns’ motto is, appropriately, “Dig Deeper.” Stone Barns is a hub of “learning, creativity and experimentation which encourages food change-makers near and far to make healthier choices for themselves and the planet.” Working to train the next generation of farmers and food citizens, their mission is to change the way Americans view farms and what they eat and where it comes from. On October 15-16, Lindsey Dayton, Senior Manager of Food Education, and James O’Donnell, Education Manager visited White Mountain. Through Stone Barns’ Food Education team, James works to develop the center’s interdisciplinary high school food studies curriculum and leads educational programming for teachers and students. They are looking forward to working with White Mountain and Lindsey shared the following, “Stone Barns is excited to dig in with the students and faculty of White Mountain to ask how our understanding of the environment changes when we put food and farming at the center.”

Seeking to further develop their own curriculum by learning about White Mountain’s programs and courses, they met with Head of School John Drew, administrators, program directors, and students to explore ways to cross pollinate our missions. For the foreseeable future, representatives from Stone Barns and White Mountain will work together to imagine what a partnership with a boarding school could look like. White Mountain’s mission of inquiry and engagement offers a remarkable chance to partner with a leading institution on crucial environmental and sustainability issues. The team visited several local organizations to get a perspective on local farming and production. This included a tour of Meadowstone Farms, owned by Tim Wennrich, former faculty member at White Mountain and parent of a current student. Tim shared with the group his farming practices and insights on the possible ways to incorporate more opportunities for hands-on learning at Meadowstone and White Mountain’s own organic farm. During the tour, Tim said several times, “If it’s about kids, food, and education, I’m all in!”

Our School was one of the first small, independent schools in the nation to have a farm on the campus and our Sustainability Studies Department, founded in 2001, is the first such department at the secondary-school level in the United States. White Mountain was also the first to require for graduation that all students participate in a course in this discipline. The most recent elective – Sustainable Farming – is one of many to fulfill the requirement. The course combines hands-on work on our farm during the growing and harvest season. Students learn practical skills related to food production and preservation. Moving to the classroom the focus shifts to academic studies. The course seeks to answer questions by exploring food production methods and examining the emerging ideology of food justice – the idea that the benefits and risks of growing, processing, distributing and consuming food should be shared equitably.

Fall 2019 Field Courses also looked at food-related issues and examined the ideas and practices of sustainable agriculture, farming, and environmental stewardship. The courses explored questions such as: How then can we, as global citizens, adequately nourish ourselves while considering the well-being of the planet and of future generations? Eating seasonally and locally-sourced foods may provide a sustainable solution. These are a few of the many questions that our partnership with Stone Barns will address. We will work with Stone Barns to explore ideas and curriculum for White Mountain and other schools that examine how we can create equitable food systems and promote advocates for environmental leadership. Judson Reid, White Mountain alumnus, Class of 1992, and a specialist in the Cornell University Vegetable Program, notes, “Whether they become farmers themselves or not, we need future generations to develop an understanding of how food is produced and the interface between agriculture and the natural environment. The skills and knowledge the students gain in this work can be applied to many professional and personal fields. The world needs more young people with these experiences and White Mountain is contributing. I give credit to the success I’ve enjoyed to White Mountain.” Current student, Zoe Simon ’21, is one of many students looking forward to this new venture, “I am excited about our school’s collaboration with Stone Barns. Their passion for solving environmental problems and enhancing agricultural systems is inspiring. It will be encouraging to see what their knowledge and ability to ask important questions will do to create a culture of sustainability in our community.” Future plans include a Spring 2020 Field Course that would be held at Stone Barns. We are all very excited about this unique opportunity. It is our hope that White Mountain students will be inspired by this collaboration. This exciting project is made possible by donors like you to White Mountain.

As Mike Peller, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning, describes it, “For many reasons this partnership inspires me. Most of all, though, I am excited about the prospect of developing exemplary curriculum— focusing on food equity and environmental leadership– that can be shared widely. It is our plan to create pathways that other schools might follow— that is, using our expertise in place-based experiential education, to put food and the environment at the center of student learning. That is how we’ll build the next generation of environmental leaders.”

Located in Pocantico Hills, New York, Stone Barns originated as a collaborative experiment with conservation planners, organic farmers and many others who came together to set a common vision and purpose for the land and buildings that were once part of a 1930s dairy operation. In 2003, the Rockefeller family donated the 80-acre property and restored the barns to form the nonprofit Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, to honor the memory of Peggy Rockefeller—farmers and farmland preservationist. On the farm, the work and scope have grown beyond an initial focus on public awareness and children to include the Growing Farmers Initiative, among other programs. For more information about Stone Barns please go to stonebarnscenter.org.

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