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ConVal

Cornucopia in transition

Gardening program executive director taking on new role, expanding programs

  • Kin Schilling will be stepping down as director of the Cornucopia Project, but she's not retiring.
  • Kin Schilling will be stepping down as director of the Cornucopia Project, but she's not retiring.
  • Kin Schilling will be stepping down as director of the Cornucopia Project, but she's not retiring.
  • Kin Schilling will be stepping down as director of the Cornucopia Project, but she's not retiring.
  • Kin Schilling will be stepping down as director of the Cornucopia Project, but she's not retiring.
  • Kin Schilling will be stepping down as director of the Cornucopia Project, but she's not retiring.
  • Kin Schilling will be stepping down as director of the Cornucopia Project, but she's not retiring.
  • Kin Schilling will be stepping down as director of the Cornucopia Project, but she's not retiring.
  • Kin Schilling will be stepping down as director of the Cornucopia Project, but she's not retiring.
  • Kin Schilling will be stepping down as director of the Cornucopia Project, but she's not retiring.
  • Kin Schilling will be stepping down as director of the Cornucopia Project, but she's not retiring.

Kin Schilling, founder of the Cornucopia Project, wants to focus on what she loves best — working with children to teach them the joys of gardening and the benefits of eating locally grown, healthy food. So after seven years at the helm of the nonprofit organization, which runs gardening programs at the Hancock, Peterborough and Dublin elementary schools and South Meadow School in Peterborough, as well as a community garden at the Peterborough Community Center, Schilling is stepping down as Cornucopia’s executive director.

But she’s not planning to stop gardening. While her Cornucopia friends threw quite a party on Friday to celebrate Schilling’s 70th birthday, Schilling says her plan is to focus on expanding Cornucopia’s connections with the ConVal School District.

“I might be older, but I’m definitely not going to retire,” Schilling said on Monday. “By stepping aside as executive director, I can concentrate on our Farm to School program, which aims to bring healthy local food to the schools. In this region, there are children who come to school hungry. We need to address that.”

At Friday’s celebration, longtime Cornucopia volunteer Beate Becker was introduced as the organization’s interim executive director. A resident of Harrisville and Arlington, Mass., Becker will be focusing on strategic planning and putting the organization on a solid financial footing.

“I may not be a farmer, but I love accounting and spreadsheets — all those things that Kin hates,” Becker said at Friday’s event.

Becker has been a supporter of Cornucopia since she first met Schilling several years ago at Cornucopia’s harvest dinner, held in the small triangle of land on Norway Hill in Hancock, where Schilling had started a garden for Hancock students.

“There was a clay oven there, and young people serving this amazing meal. I was completely taken in,” Becker said on Monday. “Cornucopia is almost entirely local, 90 percent supported by individuals or family foundations. That’s phenomenal. Now we’re in a point of transition, with the founder stepping back. What we need now is to build this organization for the long-term, to make it sustainable and more self-sufficient.”

Becker, who has a Master’s of Business Administration degree from the Yale School of Management, said her background is in arts and economic development. She has worked for the Massachusetts Cultural Council and was founding director of the Design Industry Group of Massachusetts. In both positions, she said, she focused on looking at how cultural organizations are also legitimate and valuable contributors to a region’s economic sector.

“Cornucopia is at a really exciting point,” Becker said. “Kin has built such strong roots in the community and in the schools. This transition is a real indication that we’re moving into the young adult phase as an organization. The spirit in which [Cornucopia] is founded is very much there.”

Becker, who will be working about three days a week in the part-time position, said she is likely to stay on through next summer.

“Bringing people together and raising money to support our initiatives, that’s what I’ll be doing,” she said.

Meanwhile, Schilling will be concentrating on expanding the school gardens.

“As of this coming spring, we will be in all eight elementary schools in ConVal and at the Dublin preschool,” Schilling said. “When children know where their food comes from and grow it themselves, they’re much more likely to get excited. The health of these children is so important.”

Cornucopia expects to have 400 children growing and eating food from the school gardens by spring, double the number from this year.

“We’ve created a wonderful model in the Monadnock regions that other schools and communities are eager to replicate,” Schilling said.

She is also developing the Farm to School program, which is intended to enable local farmers to sell directly to school cafeterias. Schilling said she’s planning to start small, working with two or three farmers who can provide local produce at competitive wholesale prices to the ConVal Food Service Department. She’s even looking into options for providing locally raised lamb and hamburger to schools.

Schilling is planning to expand the Cornucopia’s educational programs at Brook’s Side Farm in Hancock, where she planted one of the organization’s first gardens.

And she’s looking forward to continuing to work with Joyce Carroll, who has been heading up Cornucopia’s community garden program in Peterborough.

“That’s a huge project,” Schilling said. “It involves kids, parents, community members. Once a kitchen goes in at the community center, we can play a huge role in teaching people how to grow and cook vegetables.

Schilling is excited about the transition.

“I’m not an office person,” she said. “I much prefer to be working in the garden, working to support local farming and working with children. To introduce kids to gardening is such a joy.”

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