Grade 7 and 8 classes at St. Ann Catholic School in Fenwick and St. Alexander Catholic Elementary School in Fonthill, along with the culinary class at Notre Dame College School in Welland, hosted an appreciation luncheon for local farmers last week at Hollow Maple Farms in Fenwick. BILL POTRECZ

The Grade 7 and 8 classes at St. Ann Catholic School in Fenwick and St. Alexander Catholic Elementary School in Fonthill, along with the culinary class at Notre Dame College School in Welland, hosted an appreciation luncheon for local farmers last week at Hollow Maple Farms in Fenwick.

The students from the two schools individually honoured local farmers, greenhouse growers, and agribusinesses as part of a pilot project put forth by the Niagara Catholic District School Board.

“We’re going to try going Niagara-wide in the following years to start getting our kids to make a connection with where the food is produced, and to do an informal introduction for them to our local growers,” said Marco Magazzeni, NCDSB co-ordinator of exponential learning, community partnership. “We’re starting in Pelham. The Town of Pelham has been very supportive with the event. We have a partnership already with Hollow Maple Farms so we thought we would pilot it here and start doing this to understand about sustainability and protecting our farmland and what it means to us locally.”

Students from the two elementary schools individually presented local farmers with homemade wooden plaques giving thanks to their commitment and dedication to providing for the community.

St. Ann teacher Brad Rusling, and Kara Eller, a resource teacher at St. Alexander, organized the students.

“It was a quick turnaround when we found out about it but they seemed to embrace it,” Rusling said. “They are a very mature group and they realize this is their community so they wanted to come and say thank you.”

Joe Zaroda, associate superintendent at NCDSB, loved the idea of doing something tangible for local farmers.

“The key piece is for our students to recognize in front of them is an incredible group of individuals that we should be giving thanks to for all the gifts they have given to us over the years with regard to food on our table,” Zaroda said.

Hollow Maple Farms has partnered with NCDSB for the last ten years. Owner Sam Iftody and sons George and Ed donate a couple of acres to students for the horticultural programs at secondary schools.

“The produce is picked by students and brought back to our culinary kitchens,” Magazzeni said. “Some of the food goes into the kitchens for our students to use and some of it goes to agencies such as Hope Centre or Project Share in Niagara Falls.”

Magazzeni hopes to expand the program.

Hollow Maple Farms owner Sam Iftody. BILL POTRECZ

“This is our test. We want to use this as a pilot. Our kids need to learn about the sustainability of our land and planning policies so we don’t destroy our farms lands where our food is coming from,” he said. “Our hope is our kids, our youth, learn to shop appropriately. Before you buy an apple or pear that is coming from South Africa, be cognizant that pear is sitting down the street at a local food farm.”

Magazzeni said the school board owes a debt of gratitude to the Iftody family.

“There is really nothing they have ever said no to that our kids could do on this farm,” he said.

Sam Iftody, who said the farm began in 1927, loves being involved the students.

“I wanted to be the giver, I didn’t want to receive,” he said. “I wanted those guys to take over what they wanted to do. I cultivated it up and let them go at it. If they ask questions, I’d answer them. Other than that, if you sink, you sink. Ask before your try things because it’s hard to do. These guys get into it I and enjoy watching them. It’s been really nice. They are all very good kids.”