Blair Academy’s partnership with the Blairstown-based Foodshed Alliance has grown over the past several years, and both the School and the local-food-focused nonprofit have benefited from the association. At Blair, produce from nearby farms has become a regular feature in the dining hall and students have experienced hands-on learning opportunities in farming, healthy meal preparation, community access to fresh food and more. The Foodshed Alliance, meanwhile, has found a strong and enthusiastic force of faculty and student advocates and volunteers for its many projects, not to mention an ideal venue for its 2017 Gala Celebration, which will be held in Blair Academy’s Romano Dining Hall on March 25.
Planting Seeds of Service
The Blair/Foodshed Alliance partnership began about four years ago when Foodshed Alliance’s LocalShare program coordinator Christine Parauda, director of Blair’s Romano Gallery and wife of veteran English teacher Tom Parauda, recruited student volunteers to help at the organization’s periodic “Pay What You Can” community dinners. These awareness-raising and community-building events showcased locally sourced ingredients, expertly prepared by area chefs, and Blair students—and several faculty members—assisted with set up, food preparation and serving.
“Our kids were excited to help, and this led to more opportunities for community service and involvement with Foodshed Alliance,” Mrs. Parauda explained. Chief among those opportunities have been gleaning trips to northwest New Jersey farms, during which teachers and students—including prefects, athletes, those involved in the community service club, LEADS groups and more—have harvested less-than-perfect-looking-but-entirely-edible produce. The fresh vegetables are delivered to area food pantries, thereby accomplishing two important goals of the Foodshed Alliance’s LocalShare program: reducing food waste and providing healthy food to those in need.
Chris Liu ’18 had an “amazing experience” gleaning squashes during a hot afternoon last fall with science teacher Rob Merrifield’s outdoor action group. “At first, I thought it was going to be casual and fun, like apple-picking, but it was actually hard work,” she said. “I was especially surprised to learn that the only reason the vegetables were simply left to rot was their appearance. It was just such a pity to see all that food going to waste and to think about people nitpicking the appearance of vegetables while others can't afford to eat anything. The day was really fun, though not in the same way as apple-picking—it was the kind of fun that's satisfying.”
Blair’s athletic teams have also been part of the gleaning effort, and field hockey player Nia Shaw ’17 found her day gleaning apples a great team-bonding experience, as well as a gratifying way to serve others. “We competed to find and pick up the most perfect apples off the ground, which was hilarious,” she said. “There were so many rows of apple trees, but at the end of the day, it was really rewarding to see all the boxes of apples we had gleaned.”
Serving & Learning
A sophomore Blair LEADS class partnered with Foodshed Alliance in a different kind of activity last spring, when they created wellness hygiene packages for clients at a Morristown food pantry. The group then volunteered at the pantry, serving a meal and distributing much-needed food to over 100 people.
Emma Mohlmann ’18 described the day as one of the most grounding experiences she’s ever had. “It was difficult to see so many people who didn't know if they were going to have enough food to bring home to their families,” she said. “However, it was also a heartwarming experience; I know I helped many people that day, and I am grateful to have had that opportunity.”
Mrs. Parauda noted that education about Foodshed Alliance’s mission is an essential part of its service activities with Blair students. “We’ve had great discussions with students about farming, respecting the land, and the critical problem of food waste and what they can do about it,” she said. “For some kids, a gleaning trip to a farm or getting involved in cooking a healthy meal for others is their first experience of seeing exactly where their food comes from. That’s an important step to solving the challenges that exist in our food system today.”
2017 Gala Dinner
Both Mrs. Parauda and Foodshed Alliance executive director Kendrya Close are looking forward to continued partnership with Blair Academy, and next up on the calendar is Foodshed Alliance’s first-ever Gala Celebration of Local Food, Local Farms & Local Heroes at Blair. The March 25 event features a silent auction, live entertainment and, of course, fine regional foods prepared by some of New Jersey’s top chefs, including those from Blair’s Sage Dining Services.
“Our partnership with Blair Academy is very important to us, and we’re grateful to benefit from the suggestions, ideas and volunteer service of teachers and students,” said Ms. Close, who spoke at the Society of Skeptics in October 2016. “Our partnership will continue to grow—in ways we don’t even know about yet!”
For more information about the Foodshed Alliance or to purchase tickets for the Gala, please visit www.foodshedalliance.org.