The Farmer Connection - by Barbara Percival
In FoodPrints we teach children how eating fruits and vegetables will help make them healthy and wise, and how fruits and vegetables actually grow in the ground instead of appearing magically in the grocery store, wrapped in plastic. We also teach them about who grows many of the delicious fruits and vegetables they love eating at FoodPrints - the farmers, of course!
Through FRESHFARM Markets we are able to associate a human face with what they are eating. We grow some of the produce used for classes in our Edible Schoolyard, but we cannot begin to grow enough for the 1,800+ children who participate in FoodPrints each month. Each of our school gardens functions primarily as a demonstration garden, where the children can learn how vegetables grow, what is needed to maintain them, and what the plants look like in the ground. But, we are never able to produce enough to feed all our students. So, we supplement our garden production with produce from our markets. Through the years, we have developed informal relationships with many of the farmers, who are usually very generous with their time and their vegetables and bedding plants -- and interested in hearing how children are gobbling up their the results of their hard labor. They have also been very generous with advice. Zach Lester of Tree and Leaf Farm in particular has been invaluable. He has consulted with us about how to improve the productivity of the school garden and creating a crop plan to tailor our harvest calendar to the needs of the program. His recommendations - including a growing schedule and crop rotation scheme -have made a real difference. He and other farmers are always willing to stop and talk to one of us about issues that arise, from diagnosing crop ailments to suggestions about varieties to grow.
On the other side, we talk to the children about where the produce comes from, and what "local" means. We teach a lesson to the third and fourth graders specifically about why it is important to eat seasonal produce from local farmers - and let them know exactly what farms grew the vegetables they use to produce three different seasonal winter salads. We also have farmers come Watkins to let the children know that farmers are real people, and to understand what they do. Michael James of Blueberry Hill has regaled the first graders with stories of what it means to be a farmer, and shown them a gorgeous market basket of what his farm produces. Emily Zaas of Black Rock Orchard conducted sessions with fourth graders specifically about the selling end of the business. The students loved taking turns "selling" apples to their classmates and making change. They were only disappointed that they didn't get to keep the profits. Zach Lester and Georgia O'Neal of Tree and Leaf brought with them a fascinating and colorful variety of beans, corn, gourds and other seed-bearing plants to enhance the first graders' study of seeds, seed saving, and how plants grow. Jeremy Brosowsky of Compost Cab has talked to the fourth graders about what compost is, and why it is important for growing healthy plants. These visits spark children's curiosity and expand their horizons. They are always full of questions about what life as a farmer is like, particularly about how they came to farming. Quietly, we wonder and hope that FoodPrints will inspire some future farmers along the way.
Another great way to connect the students with the farmers is to encourage them and their families to go to local farmers markets. We have had "FoodPrints Days" at the FRESHFARM market at H St. NE, where we encourage families from the FoodPrints schools to come and meet the farmers and FRESHFARM staff, as well as help with cooking demonstrations and hands-on activities. We have also been able to work with New Morning Farm to start a small seasonal farmers market a block away from Watkins, with Wednesday hours that start with the end of the school day. This partnership has been a wonderful way for families to have easy access to the ingredients they need to try out the latest FoodPrints recipe. We figure that the more our students get to know the farmers, and the more the farmers get to know about FoodPrints, the better off we will all be.
Written by Barbara Percival