The words “Farm to School” conjure up many images and ideas. Children eating nutritious school meals featuring colorful vegetables fresh from the field, farmers teaching eager students about their vocation, taste tests in the cafeteria, cooking demos, classroom gardening. I’m happy to report that Concrete Farm to School is beginning to accomplish all of these things!
On Thursday, April 9, 2015, Mrs. Elms’ second grade class returned to the Community Garden, which they had previously visited in October. In the fall, they planted garlic in one of the raised beds and carefully covered it with straw mulch to prepare for winter. Their springtime mission was to plant sugar snap peas in another bed, but they were really looking forward to checking on their garlic! The anticipation and excitement was palpable as they raced up the hill to the garden gate, impatiently but obediently waiting for permission to enter.
I’d visited their class on Tuesday, when we dissected pre-soaked pea seeds to observe the seed coat, embryo and cotyledon, and then planted (other, non-dissected) seeds in toilet paper tubes. During that lesson, we talked about the garlic, and the kids used their hands to estimate how tall it might have grown in the last five months. But none of them thought it would be that tall! After observing the garlic for a few minutes (do you remember the size of the clove you planted? What do you think it looks like under the ground? Why did we put the straw on the bed? What are weeds?), we moved over to the other Farm to School raised bed to plant our peas.
The kids carefully dug holes for their seeds and buried the toilet paper tube pots. We discussed what our seeds would need to grow (soil, sunlight, water, air, and a trellis. What’s a trellis? Do all plants need a trellis? Can you spot some different trellises in the garden?). I provided bamboo and twine, and the kids designed and built a trellis (I can only hope that we mostly remembered where we planted all the seeds!). And then we said goodbye to our seeds, wished them luck, and headed back to the school, where the kids were off to PE. After the 20 minute walk, which seemed to be uphill each way, they were ready to begin their gym period with a visit to the water fountain!
The garlic and peas will be harvested in July by Concrete Summer Learning Adventure campers, and maybe, if all goes well, Mrs. Elms’ class will get to go back and visit their gardens one more time before school ends in June. I was reminded last week that nutrition is not just about counting nutrients. To help children become truly healthy, we must give them the tools and knowledge they need to make healthy decisions themselves. For a second grader, planting peas and eating the fruits of their labor will have a much more lasting impact than a classroom lecture comparing fruits and veggies to Cheetos. Perhaps that’s true for all of us. Maybe what we need is not more articles telling us what to eat or not to eat, but more time spent in the garden!