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Montpelier's Soulful Soup: Uniting the School Community Through Food

Posted by Sarah Webb
Communications Manager

“Wow, it really does look like Hogwarts,” a student remarks, impressed, walking into the school gymnasium. Set end-to-end, four long stretches of tables span the room, one for each grade (“Harry Potter style”). The bleachers and mats are strung with twinkling lights, pushed aside for the schoolwide lunch. It’s March 2024, and Montpelier High School’s first-ever Solon Soup for the Soul is just kicking off with 400 students and staff sitting down to share a meal together.

A teacher ladles soup into a bowl. In the background, many students are seated at long tables in a school gymnasium.
Educator Sam Bromley serves soup to students during the inaugural Solon Soup for the Soul lunch. Photo by Sarah Webb.


“We have events like this in the fall and spring, and we were thinking how we should have one in the winter, too,” explains senior Meg Voisin. She and fellow senior Anika Turcotte are the creators of the event, named for the school’s mascot, the Athenian philosopher, Solon. The duo organized with teachers, the school nutrition team, and administrators to give their peers time to connect with one another following the isolating years of the pandemic.

“Only half of the school would come in the morning, and the other half came in the afternoon,” Meg remembers back to those days. “So we were coming in as freshmen, and there's like these big scary seniors, and you can't see if they're smiling at you because we've all got masks on, and there are temperature guns as you walk through the school… It was really isolating.”

As restrictions eased, the school created a spring event, Pizza for the People. Students gathered in between class sessions to eat freshly baked pizza from the outdoor oven, play lawn games, and have a moment of normalcy. “​​The event was designed to combat that isolation,” shares Meg, “and that’s what we want for Solon Soup for the Soul, too.” 

But the road to Solon Soup took a team, and time. Last summer, three teachers — Brigitte Savard, Matt McLane, and Sam Bromley — formed a team with Meg and Anika and were accepted into the Northeast Farm to School Institute, a year-long program supporting schools across the region in deepening connections among the classroom, cafeteria, and local agricultural community.

  • Andy Duback

    A portion of the Montpelier Northeast Farm to School Institute team at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn develops their action plan for further embedding food systems education into their curriculum.

  • Andy Duback

    Youth team members Meg Voisin (left) and Anika Turcotte (right) dream up the Solon Soup for the Soul event during the Northeast Farm to School Institute at Shelburne Farms.

The Montpelier team went into the kick-off retreat with some significant assets. Pizza for the People, and the school’s longstanding Fall Harvest Celebration were already highlighting how Montpelier’s sense of community is synonymous with a shared meal. Out behind their school, a greenhouse, gardens, apiaries, and a flock of chickens were helping students connect good food to its source. 

“We just really needed that dedicated team time to dive into this work,” shares science teacher Sam Bromley. “I feel like in the school setting, it's really hard to bring stakeholders together and have the time and space to get in the mindset to think creatively.”

Students and teachers shared in the planning. “I can't imagine not having students as part of the team,” Sam adds. “If we can get students involved right away, they can build excitement. Their voice builds teacher buy-in and longevity.”

It was during the Institute’s opening retreat at Shelburne Farms Coach Barn that Meg and Anika envisioned Solon Soup for the Soul. “It was a time and space for our team of teachers and students to all be together, completely focused on this one thing,” recalls Anika. “I remember sitting in the back of that nice, big barn… just being surrounded by all these people who are really excited about bringing good food into our schools. It helped focus us. That barn is a good place for ideas.”

“We just started brainstorming,” explains Meg. “What do we want for ourselves? For our peers? And we were just thinking ‘really cozy, rustic bread, comfort.’ Right then and there we created the title of it: Solon Soup for the Soul.”

The team returned to school with an idea, ready to bring it to life, and held regular planning meetings throughout the fall semester. “We faced some logistical challenges,” remembers Brigitte. “We couldn’t use the gym during the basketball season, our school's folding tables were destroyed in a recent flood, and the school calendar was already jam-packed.” But the team had help. “Having the support of the administration was key to this event's success,” says Brigitte. “ They helped us navigate the hurdles we faced.”

Students prepare carrots in an education kitchen.
Students supported the event by processing the majority of the menu's ingredients during class time. Photo by Sarah Webb.

Then, they needed to figure out how to make over 400 servings of soup. The team pulled in student-power from classes that already used the school’s teaching kitchen, like Sam’s Cooked class, a popular offering with hands-on culinary and food systems learning. “It’s a space where we get to cook foods we normally couldn't at home,” explains Cooked student Lara. “We get to learn new skills and cook for special events and guests. It’s just nice to work together.”

Brigitte’s French and Crêpe classes were also tasked to help. The Crêpe class supports a student-run crêpe kiosk at the local farmers’ market. “Students work on all aspects of the business,” shares Brigitte, “from cooking, menu development, branding, and marketing, to serving and taking orders at the market.” The sales support a travel scholarship fund available school-wide.

Leading up to the lunch, these classes prepped the ingredients: 50 pounds of carrots, 30 pounds of onions, 80 pounds of potatoes, and 40 gallons of stock to name a few. The cooking was finished in the cafeteria kitchen.

A man ladles soup into large hotel pans in a school kitchen.
Food Services Director Jim Birmingham pulls the meal together and works with the team to serve the entire school community in the gymnasium. Photo by Sarah Webb.

“We are very fortunate to have a very supportive Food Services Director and Kitchen Manager,” explains Sam. “They’re partners in this work. They’re excited to support more whole-school events and get students involved, but they don’t always have the people power.”

Vermont school nutrition departments budget for, plan, cook, and serve over 17 million meals annually, with an abundance of regulations applied to every single one, including special events like Solon Soup for the Soul.  

“The students came up with this idea, and my role is to help them figure out how to make their idea be compliant [with USDA standards],” explains Food Services Director Jim Birmingham. “My role really was doing the math, understanding the regulations, knowing what needed to be served, and working from there.”

The team figured out how to create a simple menu that could feed the entire school in an hour, while meeting requirements and purchasing as much local food as possible. The solution  was all about collaboration. “We cook the Misty Knoll chickens and the students pick them,” explains Jim. “We buy the carrots, and they cut them. It's nice to work with Sam, who can work with the students, prioritize, and help us figure out how to make it all work.

Teachers serve soup from a cart
Educator Brigitte Savard serves up chicken soup as the entire school gathers for a meal together. Photo by Sarah Webb.

And they made it all work. On March 20, Montpelier High School students and faculty sat down in the gymnasium.  A custom Solon Soup for the Soul playlist was just audible above the conversation. The planning team, pushing carts brimming with pots of soup, wound their way through the aisles, ladling out chicken noodle and vegan minestrone to all. The event also served as a food drive, collecting nonperishables for a nearby food shelf. Extra soup was packaged and donated, too.

“You know, we typically don't eat together all at once. So it was really nice to have an extended amount of time where students could sit down and eat together,” says Sam. “It was a chance to really have some intentionality behind eating and bringing the community together.”

“These events really are a core Montpelier thing,” Anika adds. “I'm so grateful to be a part of a school community that values spending time, all together, serving local food. These events will definitely be what I'll look back on in ten years and remember.”

A group of five students and teachers smile for a photo in a classroom.
The Solon Soup for the Soul team. Left to right: Sam Bromley, Anika Turcotte, Meg Voisin, Brigitte Savard, Matt McLane. Phot courtesy Montpelier High School.

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