Learning how to cook and garden as a child helped Lelia Evans cultivate a passion for sharing her knowledge with others.
Lelia, the founder of The Market Garden School in Stowe, graduated from the UVM Farmer Training Program in 2016. We talked to the Belmont, Massachusetts native about her path to starting a farm-based school and her passion for teaching children how to grow and cook food.
You graduated from college with a degree in international studies and then received a master’s degree in Spanish language and linguistics. How did you decide to make the switch to farming?
After 10 years teaching Spanish at Buckingham Browne and Nichols School Upper School in Cambridge, Mass., I took a year-long sabbatical to explore my passion for the outdoors and the pursuit of a life more connected to the land and to community. I spent that year in Vermont, and made the decision to resign from my job in order to stay here and grow roots. The Farmer Training Program had been on my radar for a number of years at that point as my interest in farming and education grew. Before moving to Vermont, I co-founded a farm-to-table program at Buckingham Browne and Nichols School, and spent time volunteering on local educational farms in the Boston area. The Farmer Training Program felt like the next logical step, as I knew I wanted to start an educational farm but felt like I lacked a depth of knowledge in farming.
How did you go about starting the Market Garden School in Stowe in July 2017?
It has been a dream of mine to own and operate a working educational farm for years. The Market Garden School is a culmination of my varied experience—in private and public education, outdoor leadership and experience-based learning—and my passion for youth, food, farming, creative endeavors and learning communities. After completing the Farmer Training Program, I was finally ready to bring this vision to fruition. I had been sitting on the idea of an educational farm as early as 2011, and when I had the opportunity to buy land in Stowe, I jumped at the chance. I closed on my property in August of 2016, and come winter that year, I had plowed and cover cropped my first field, built a small shed on site with my class from Farmer Training, and launched a website to advertise for the summer programming.
What is the school’s mission?
The Market Garden School is a locale for cooking, eating, growing and learning, where we seek to spark curiosity and joy while cultivating connections between people and the land that sustains us. Our programming—summer days and after school—caters to local kids and those from surrounding towns. As we expand our marketing and offerings, I do anticipate that visiting families from more urban areas will be interested in getting involved. I’d also like to see some type of summer/fall weekend events that attract folks from a wider net here in Vermont.
Talk about some of your programming, and what you have planned for spring.
Our activities last fall related to farming and agriculture, food preparation and cooking skills, and ecological issues. We worked in the garden to harvest, planted for fall, collected and saved seeds, and cooked each day with produce from the market garden, often using our outdoor earthen oven. From edamame and bean and cheese empanadas to make your own salsa, maple-glazed roasted root veggies and pumpkin muffins, we were busy. We also had 45 students from the Mountain River School learn to make butter and explore the fall garden. This spring, we hope to expand our school visits and offer more after-school programming that focuses on early spring farm chores and preparation. We’ll be working in our new greenhouse and planning for our student run farm stand.
Who has been your biggest influencer?
As long as I can remember, my mom has had a garden. She grew up in Tennessee on her grandparents’ farm, and was surrounded by cooking and agriculture her whole life. When I was a child, we had a big garden right out our kitchen door in suburban Boston, a small homage to what my mom had grown up with. Picking veggies in the garden and helping my mom cook in the kitchen was just what we did. She loves to cook, and she is always creating in the kitchen. She’s also a registered dietitian, and so healthy eating and cooking was also just part of the deal. I learned a lot through osmosis, but I didn’t dive deep into gardening on my own until moving back to Boston from the West Coast in my 20s. My mom’s garden was a refuge, and I found myself going there more and more after work and on the weekends. My love of growing food and working with my hands in the soil just kept growing.
What were some important lessons you learned in the UVM Farmer Training Program?
I got to try my hand at all aspects of running a small-scale farm. The program gave me the depth of knowledge and confidence to trust in my abilities to move forward with an educational farm. Farming isn’t about having it all figured out, but having the confidence to be able to figure it out, working with what you have, and changing as needed. Farmer Training also introduced me to the players that make up Vermont’s food system—an endless well of inspiration and a wide-eyed look at the power of community. Most of all, the Farmer Training Program taught me to trust in the power of a seed.
What do you hope to accomplish with the Market Garden School?
This quote comes to mind: “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings” by Masanobu Fukuoka of The One-Straw Revolution. I want the Market Garden School to grow into a thriving community farm that focuses on interconnection, awareness of and connection to the natural world, and exploration of the land and people that sustains us. I want to create future stewards of our environment, food citizens, and advocates of good food. And I want to create a place where people get to know one another, support one another, and have fun.