Thanksgiving celebrations differ in 2020, this year of COVID-19. Travel is limited. Guests not allowed. Families and friends separated.
The pandemic, however, could not disrupt one Thanksgiving tradition at the Currier Memorial School: being thankful for its special partnership with Smokey House.
Smokey House Community plays an integral role with the entire CMS family through their Community Farm project.
Since its origin in 2016, the Community Farm reaches out each year to Currier students, providing hands-on learning opportunities about land, food and sharing nature’s bounty.
A few tweaks and adjustments have been made to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions, but just like the seasons move from spring to fall each year, the Smokey House continues its work with CMS.
In the spring of previous years, Smokey House Farmer and Education Coordinator, Jamie Lombardo (AKA, “Farmer Jamie”), traveled to Currier in a pick-up truck packed with pots, soil, and seeds.
The goal was to instruct the students in the basics of planting. Those pots were filled with soil and seeds and then returned to Smokey House where the kids visited in early June to transplant the new seedlings into the ground.
While the plants grew over a normal summer, the Currier students attended day camps at Smokey House to explore the farm and forest with local teens employed as Youth Leaders.
The fall usually featured field trips from Currier so the children could harvest their spring crops and later pick pumpkins for Halloween. Smokey House also created its own Community Supported Agriculture program to share the food grown on the farm with Currier families in weekly deliveries during the summer and fall.
“When COVID restrictions shut down the school last spring, our initial concern was that our work with the kids and families would be put on hold, we might lose a whole year,” Lombardo said. “Then we realized that farmers deal with challenges all the time. We would find a way to continue our program within the COVID guidelines.”
And she did.
While admittedly not a technical wizard, Lombardo worked through her apprehension to create a video showing students and parents how to plant spring crops at home: cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce.
Seeds were sent home and for families lacking enough land for gardens, pots and soil were also provided. “I cherish a letter I received from a mother who was thrilled to be able to share tomatoes, grown in pots, with neighbors,” Lombardo said.
While the annual summer day camp was canceled, Smokey House ramped up their production capacity to increase the amount of food in its Summer Meals Program. Summer squash, snap peas, green beans and fresh blueberries were featured items this year and delivered to Currier student homes in July and August.
The Fall CSA program also continued this year with six weeks of deliveries to welcoming families.
In-person Currier students received their packages at school. Remote learning families were offered a pick-up location at Smokey House that was scrubbed COVID-clean after each collection.
The produce included annual staples like potatoes (five kinds), carrots, onions, garlic and winter squash. These basics were augmented with cabbage, turnips, beets and fall greens.
The annual fall pumpkin patch field trip to Smokey House was off-limits due to COVID restrictions, but Lombardo, along with Currier Principal, Carolyn Parillo, were not to be deterred.
“We used a field adjacent to the school to space out Smokey House pumpkins, creating our own, on-site, pumpkin patch,” Parillo said. “Each grade was invited to come outside individually. Students selected their own pumpkin and then decorated their prize with paints. We saved a Currier, Smokey House Halloween tradition!”
The Smokey House crops have now been harvested, but Farmer Jamie is not yet ready to hibernate over the winter.
“I’m thinking about building up my courage to make another video or two for the kids,” Lombardo said. “Maybe a lesson about recipes for cooking root crops like carrots. Or making holiday wreaths from balsam boughs, dogwood branches, feathers or anything else students can forage for seasonal fun.”
Whatever the final outcome, the Smokey House connection with the Currier Memorial School continues. And for that, Currier students and families are thankful.