Cornucopia Project teaches kids to farm

  • Cornucopia Project Courtesy photo—

  • ConVal student Kelly Akerly holds up a photo of herself and Isabelle Laskey-Rigrod as young Cornucopia Project farmers. Courtesy photoS

  • Cornucopia Project students Ian Aldrich, Isabelle Laskey-Rigrod, Daisy Young and Kelley Akerly. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 12/17/2018 5:58:21 PM

The holiday season is about giving back to the people we love and appreciate. When we think of working our way through our shopping list, we associate it with our friends, family, and neighbors. Often, we overlook one of the most important groups of all: community.

There are many ways to give back to your community. You can shop locally, participate in town events, or give back to the organizations that are giving to your hometown all year round.

One such organization is the Cornucopia Project, a local nonprofit that started 13 years ago as a dream for Kin Schilling, a Hancock resident. The program’s mission is to empower the local community to make healthy food choices.

“Cornucopia’s focus is on growing healthy kids, good local food, and strong community,” said Karen Hatcher, board director of Cornucopia.

The Cornucopia Project’s goal is to create a “continuum of edible education,” starting with the elementary school gardens, then the Cool Chef’s middle school program, and finally to the Farm to Fork program at the high school. Each program is very unique, both in the students who take it and the diversity in what students will learn.

Cornucopia is getting involved with the ConVal food service as well.

“This coming year we may be growing food for the schools, so our students will be growing food that feeds the students of the district,” Hatcher said. The food will be coming from the Farm to Fork hoop house, located conveniently across the street from ConVal.

Although the project’s main subject is the ConVal district, they have given back to the community in other ways as well. The Cornucopia community garden, located at the Peterborough community center, has been donating its produce to the local food pantry for the last five years. Cornucopia’s produce can also be bought from many locations in the area, including the Fresh Chicks farmers market, Roys and Maggie’s market, and within dishes at restaurants around the area.

Aside from a large impact on the community, Cornucopia has a tendency to influence the individuals within each of the programs.

Thirteen years ago, Kin Schilling began the first Cornucopia gardens in a triangle of land by her home in Hancock. The impacts of Cornucopia are demonstrated in the first kids who got involved with the program. Schilling would march Hancock Elementary School students up to her Norway Hill gardens where they learned to plant a seed and nurture plants through to fruition, cooking group meals at Schilling’s house to emphasize the connection between the farm and the fork. 

In 2005, Schilling partnered with the Harris Center to start more plots for the students on the campus of the elementary school. 

One of those students is Isabelle Laskey-Rigrod, 18, of Hancock. Laskey-Rigrod reentered the Cornucopia project two years ago as a Farm to Fork fellow, growing and selling produce around the local area.

Laskey-Rigrod said she rejoined because of her desire to step out of her comfort zones, learn about food systems, and most importantly- because of her involvement as a child in the gardens.

“The first garden Kin had was a one-minute walk from my house. I would literally run barefoot there. It was a really comforting feeling,” Laskey-Rigrod said.

She remembers Schilling teaching her how to first plant a seed, by poking shallow holes in the dirt and placing each seed in the ground. “Since I didn’t really understand things when I was little, I didn’t realize that we would go back and actually pick the carrots out. I never really saw that coming.” Laskey-Rigrod said.

Laskey-Rigrod graduated from the three-year Farm to Fork program in August, but her time there hasn’t come close to fading from her memory.

“It changed the way that I viewed local farming and sustainable practices and it made me realize how important they are,” Laskey-Rigrod said. She used to solely go to supermarkets when her family went food shopping, but now she finds herself in the local and/or organic sections more than ever. “It made me really think about important things in ways I hadn’t ever before,” she said.

The Farm to Fork program felt like a second home to those involved. Laskey-Rigrod says some of her favorite memories were the ones that came unexpectedly.

The fellows were moving hay on a cold November afternoon last year, wearing facemask to protect against the hay flying in the air, when they realized they needed a break. “We had a moment where we took a break and admired the prettiness of the hoop house,” Laskey-Rigrod said. The fellows took selfies and laughed over how they looked with their masks on. “We were all very close, and comfortable with every single person that was there.” she said.

Hatcher said she is appreciative of the support Cornucopia gets from the community, which helps fund their initiatives.

“If you think about how hard it is for farmers to make a living, it takes a fair amount of resources to run a program like that that’s labor intensive,” Hatcher said. “The project values all of the Farm to Fork fellows’ hard work, and sees the importance of paying the high school students … We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the community belief in our work. It is clear that our community values good food and healthy kids. That belief is what inspires them to fund us and for us to do the work.”

Volunteering with the project is another way to give back to Cornucopia. Whether that’s through the school programs, committees, or fundraising, the project welcomes anyone who wants to help. For more information, contact the Cornucopia Project at (603) 784-5069.


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