From the Field: Zoë Simon ’21 on Bringing New Sustainability Ideas Back to White Mountain

As a three-year junior at the White Mountain School, I have had myriad opportunities to foster a deep connection with the land, learning to love its natural diversity and uniqueness. Having access to our student farm has produced in me a desire to protect, encourage, and utilize sustainable farming practices. As I continue to learn more about our food systems, I hope to catalyze the ongoing shift in our community’s mindset and practices surrounding food culture and cultivation.

Faculty and administration at The White Mountain School have continued to do an excellent job educating students on our environment and natural systems both in and outside of the classroom. Our many environmentally directed Field Courses—along with our biology, chemistry, AP Environmental Science, and sustainable farming classes—continue to prepare, inspire, and encourage students to have compassion for, and be curious about our environment, in line with the School’s mission. An important aspect of learning is gaining hands-on experience; students who sign up to be a part of the Farm and Forest crew, one of the School’s co-curriculars, are taught to start seedlings in our greenhouse and care for them until harvest. We produce a wide variety of fruits and vegetables each season, many of which are used by our kitchen and served in our dining hall during meal times. The visits the Farm and Forest crew have made to other farms have continued to grow my appreciation for the work I have been fortunate enough to take part in.

This spring, as part of the White Mountain Field Course program, I was given the opportunity to travel to the Stone Barns Center for Food And Agriculture in Westchester, New York. This not-for-profit organization strives to make four-season, resilient, and sustainable farming possible, giving people the opportunity to eat and farm organically. They provide locally-sourced, in-season ingredients to Blue Hill restaurant, with whom they have developed a partnership. Throughout our stay, we learned about composting, beekeeping, crop rotations, crop planning, soil health, winter crops, mushrooms, and fermentation as well as creating goals for our farm at White Mountain and brainstorming concrete steps by which they may be achieved.

During one brainstorming activity, students were asked to write down agricultural and environmental goals for our farm, community, and kitchen on sticky notes; these sticky notes were placed on a spectrum of how close we felt White Mountain was to achieving these goals. Things like “organic, locally sourced ingredients for every meal” were unanimously deemed unmanageable with our current infrastructure and resource availability, while other ideas such as “use smaller plates to reduce food waste” seemed within reach. These ideas gave way to rich conversation and important questions; “if it’s not possible to serve organic, locally sourced food for every meal, how about once a week? During our snack break on Thursdays? As a snack between classes and sports?”. After discussing and evaluating the ideas and needs of the farm, kitchen, and community, we were asked to break up into smaller groups and come up with three plans: one plan that was easily within reach, one that was a stretch, and one dream scenario. Through this process came an abundance of amazing suggestions such as creating weekend foraging and harvesting activities where students can learn to cook using things found in nature, repurposing old logs to start a mushroom farm in our woods, working with our kitchen staff to create a meal plan that students are truly excited about in order to prevent food waste, creating a rotating barrel-style composting system to make turning compost easier, planting crops that can survive the harsh temperatures of winter in our greenhouse during the colder months, and so much more.

It was truly inspiring to watch my peers connect with each other about ways to make White Mountain a better place to live. I can say, without a doubt, that the week we spent exploring our options as a farm at Stone Barns will not go to waste, as we continue to be curious about and involved in the expansion of our program. I am so excited about where these ideas will take us, and am proud to be a part of this movement to draw our beautiful school and it’s community closer to the land.

Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a coeducational college-preparatory boarding and day school for 135 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

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