District's farm to school program a model in the state

District's farm to school program a model in the state
Posted on 10/17/2017
FMS Farm to School

“Carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, head lettuce, baby lettuce, basil, cilantro, parsley, peppers, eggplant, ground cherries, lots of varieties of tomatoes, lots of varieties of potatoes, broccoli, zucchini, cabbage, kale, squash, swiss chard, ... who else am I missing,” excitedly lists off Matt Price, Agroecology/Environmental Science Teacher at Franklin Pierce School District’s farm (“The Farm”) on 96th Street and Waller Road. Notice how he used the who pronoun instead of what when talking about the crops being grown at The Farm; he cares for the plants like they were people. Price instructs classes from several schools during field trips at the farm. Students participate in outdoor labs that include soil testing, water testing, and yes -- planting, transplanting, weeding, and harvesting. The student activities are complemented by a robust team of volunteers through Harvest Pierce County’s Veggie Co-op program. Together, the total bounty from The Farm gets divided into thirds. One-third of the produce gets incorporated into student meals at the schools. The remaining two-thirds is split between local food banks and the volunteers who toil in the soil. Last year, 18,000 pounds of produce was grown on 1.25 acres of the property’s 6.2 acre site. This year, the harvest goal is 25,000 pounds using 2 acres. Each year, the footprint of land being used for production grows.

The one-third that gets incorporated in student meals gets washed and prepared by the district’s Nutrition Services department. June Suyematsu, who works in Ford Middle’s School’s kitchen, enjoys receiving the fresh, local produce for the students. “The students really like the carrots and tomatoes. The peppers not so much,” says Suyematsu. “When we receive the produce from The Farm, we clean it really well, slice it, and prepare it for students to take during their lunches. It is a lot of work, but we’re all happy to do it. The produce tastes great, it’s healthy, and the kids love it,” she says.

Ford Middle School 6th grader, Karla Bazail, enjoyed eating fresh tomatoes from The Farm. “They’re so juicy and sweet,” she says.

Back at The Farm, Price hopes that the partnership between The Farm and Nutrition Services becmes even more sophisticated than it is today, which will also aide in more student learning opportunities. “I want The Farm to operate such that months prior to the planting season, Nutrition Services tells us what kinds of produce they want, when they need it, and the quantity they need. These numbers will become ‘harvest targets’ so that the students can plan backward to determine when to plant seeds, when and where to transplant, what maintenance routines will be required, and several other considerations so that the produce will be ready for Nutrition Services when they want it and in the quantities they need.” Price’s overall goal is to have a program that allows students interested in agriculture to be desirable applicants for employment on a farm after they graduate. And even for those students that don’t choose to have a career in agriculture, they will still have learned about where their food comes, the science and labor that goes into the process, and achieve skillsets that translate across multiple career fields.

In recent months, other school districts have visited The Farm in hopes to replicate parts of the program for their own students.