By Erica Houskeeper
Ashleigh Angel wants children to connect with the environment and build a strong sense of self-sufficiency.
Her approach? Teach them to grow their own food and cook.
As a Schweitzer Fellow at Vermont Law School, Angel is working as an activity leader for the One Planet Afterschool Program at the White River School in South Royalton, where 53 children are enrolled.
“I really hope to instill a sense of environmentalism and connection to the planet,” Angel says. “I hope to teach kids to nourish their bodies rather than eat a lot of processed food, which isn’t always easy for them to do. I also want to instill a sense of self-sufficiency with students as the climate changes.”
Before coming to Vermont Law School to pursue her law degree and a Master of Food and Agriculture Law and Policy degree, Angel earned an undergraduate degree in environmental studies from the University of Oregon. She later served as an AmeriCorps member and worked with adjudicated youth, teaching them about gardening, horticultural practices, and workplace skills.
Those powerful experiences as an undergraduate and in AmeriCorps stayed with her, prompting Angel to seek out something similar for her Fellowship project. She named the project “Involvmint” to reflect her love for teaching gardening and sharing community values.
Angel spends one day a week with South Royalton elementary school students in the garden during the warmer months and also in the kitchen with them preparing simple meals. She teaches children about potting soils, seedlings, how to select rocks to use for drainage, and planting things like broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce. In the kitchen, she’s helping children cook simple dishes and sends them home with recipes and ingredients.
“The kids are really sweet and they always surprise me with their creativity,” she says. “They can flip a lesson into something super fun and educational. We made a salad together and they turned it into a race by figuring out who could make one the fastest.”
White River Valley School is one of eight One Planet sites in the White River Valley Supervisory Union. The afterschool program serves 150 children throughout the district, offering activities in arts and crafts, STEM, and math. One Planet had offered cooking and gardening classes in the past, but didn’t have such programming in recent years until Angel joined the program.
To help grow the gardening program and connect it to the wider community, Angel and fellow Vermont Law School student Elyssa Willadsen plan to approach the South Royalton Co-op about selling lettuce grown in the school garden. They also plan to open a farmers’ market booth this summer to sell produce that students have planted.
Angel says she first became interested in agriculture when she was a sophomore in college. It was then she discovered the impact of sustainable agriculture on the environment.
“I gained insight into our country’s lack of nutrition education when I learned more about nutrition and the environmental impacts of our food system. I decided that there needed to be a cultural change surrounding food in our country,” she says. “For me, teaching the younger generation about nutrition and gardening indicates that they will have a better relationship with food and the planet.”
Angel, who grew up in St. Charles, Ill., is deeply committed to public service. She eventually hopes to one day write policy for the Department of Education and focus on the development of food and environmental curriculum in public schools.
“I’m doing my job as a citizen, and I’m dedicated to public service and my broader community,” she says. “I love helping other people, and I’m focused on doing this work for life.”