Monday, January 21, 2013


At long last, winter arrived - just in time for teachers to come flocking for garden integration in their classrooms! Despite the frosty weather, we find ways to bring food and nutrition education into the classroom without taking students outside…or at least by bundling everyone up sufficiently!

Despite the flu virus running rampant this season, the fall semester at Holt Middle School has gotten off to a promising start. We continue to move full speed ahead. The Title I budget committee at Holt agreed to allocate a thousand dollars towards garden integration in math classes. Very little curriculum has been created to bring middle school math topics into the garden in a way that meets national curriculum standards. To find inspiration, I use web-based as well as printed resources to compile my list of lesson ideas. Distributing these ideas last week, along with a verbal pitch at a department meeting, yielded results that will keep me busy for months! I’ll be working with at least eight more teachers this semester to bring math and science classes out to the garden, along with bringing food and nutrition lessons into the classroom.

Yesterday, we took 5th grade science classes out to the garden to do a garden relay race. They’ve been studying simple machines, so using garden tools for chores in the form of a fun relay race was a great application of what they’ve learned. Students used shovels (lever and wedge) and tumblers (axle) to turn the compost, wheelbarrows (lever, wheel and axle, and inclined plane) to transport compost, hand tools (lever and wedge) to weed, and tillers to till the soil. They will also do some data analysis with the times recorded during the races.

More than providing a real world application of their knowledge of simple machines, this activity gave kids who’ve never spent time outside digging in the dirt a chance to connect with nature and where our food comes from. I saw kids approach the soil tentatively and very unsure of themselves. Children should not be afraid of the soil that grew their food, so hopefully activities like these will start to demystify the natural world, while at the same time making it something to ponder and appreciate.

Later this week, I will be administering a taste test in 6th grade math classes to start a discussion on the utility of surveying a random sample to make inferences about a larger population. I specifically chose food items that might be unfamiliar to the students to use this as an opportunity to expose them to new healthy snack options, for example, pistachios and persimmons. We will tally the students’ preferences to determine a class favorite, then graph the data and discuss its utility in predicting the preferences of a larger population.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I do in my service and why.  In this, and most aspects of my life, it comes down to food. I love eating and sharing food with others. I see food as a unique way to build and support community. I get to work with a bunch of twelve year olds to grow, harvest, cook, and eat food; that makes me fee pretty lucky.

Throughout elementary school, I ate hot lunch in the cafeteria. My memories of those meals are not particularly fond. When I got to high school, however, the dining services department was spectacular. We had a salad bar that listed the origins of most of our produce. Living in California, we had farmers growing delicious fresh produce year round. Since I read about who grew this food as I loaded up my plate, I really appreciated eating it. That was the first time I experienced awesome school food that wasn’t pizza or tater tots. When I look back at my food memories, that salad bar always surfaces.

The makings of carrot, beet and ginger salad.
I hope that the work I do with kids here, the work they put into growing food, and the times we share eating it, will become a part of their food memories. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of getting some kids excited about the weird food I make them eat*. I teach one group of students on Monday and Tuesday, then the second half of the middle school on Wednesday and Thursday. Mid-day Monday, I already have kids in the Wednesday and Thursday groups asking, “Are we going to eat anything in the garden this week?” When they see me schlepping down the hall with bowls and cutting boards and the last lukewarm sample, I have to constantly remind people that I would never exclude them from a tasting. Not every kid likes everything we try. Secretly, I make them try things I don’t even like.

When the first kid in a class asks tentatively if they can have seconds, then thirds, then commandeers the rest of the bowl, I sit back and appreciate (and hope) that they will remember that day too.

*one of our main garden rules is that you have to try everything at least once. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Before the holidays, the school district’s Child Nutrition Director and I hosted an interest meeting to present to new and returning producers the benefits of selling their products to schools and the logistics of our expanding Seed to Student Program.

For me, this is what it’s all about. I had chills. Though the group was small, it was truly an honor to sit around a table to discuss the direction of our program with a group of intelligent and motivated producers, community members and leaders in the local food/ food justice movement. It was an honest discussion about the future of Seed to Student programming in Fayetteville, the challenges and successes of local procurement during the summer and fall programs and to get feedback for improvement from everyone involved. Based on grower recommendation, we are making several changes to increase sustainability while expanding the program.

One of our local farmers delivering
squash destined for students' plates.
There was general consensus among returning producers. They appreciated the partnership they had established with the schools, but the primary concern was that prices were too low for the quantity of product purchased. Because the school district’s food budget is tight, spending about $1.00 per plate, pricing is tricky. Schools cannot purchase products for the premium price they are sold at the Farmer’s Market. At the same time, producers need a fair price to continue doing the honest work they do. Fortunately, school meal programs are a consistent market and have large purchasing power that the Farmer’s Market cannot provide.  It’s important that small producers diversify their markets.

Our producers requested that we assign each of them a crop or two to produce for the schools so larger quantities can be purchased from each producer; instead of giving all producers an opportunity to sell a small amount of several products to the schools as we had done this fall. A few producers mentioned that the current process was not financially sustainable for them, and were considering not selling to the schools if larger quantities could not be purchased. Our team was more than willing to make this adjustment to the program, and the change was especially ideal for our fancy ordering system, a.k.a. me. Working through this concern illustrates the importance of soliciting feedback from all parties involved and being open to change to create a sustainable and successful program.

Oh, and FPS Seed to Student has big news! This spring, with the help of a large USDA Farm to School grant and additional funding from a SARE (Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education) grant, we will begin purchasing local foods for a third middle school and the city’s high school. When I think of the impact this will have, I get so excited. Through the school lunch program and other educational programming, we now have the potential to educate and serve local fresh fruits, vegetables and meat to almost 4,000 students daily - incredible!