Gathering Farm to School Inspiration

By: Katie Sanders, FoodCorps service member

This week I had the opportunity to drive down to Burke County, Georgia to visit their Farm to School program. Burke County has been awarded the Gold Level Golden Radish Award, a distinction given to schools with exceeding farm to school programs, since 2014 and this past year they were even awarded Outstanding District of the Year. We met with Kara Leclair, the Assistant Nutrition Director in charge of Farm to School, Early Head Start, and the district wellness policy, who gave us an overview of the farm to school program before driving us around the county to visit the schools and a local farm that supplies the cafeterias.

Our first stop on the tour was the aquaponics farm, Fisheads, which supplies the county’s schools with fresh lettuce to be used on the lunch line. The facility, which uses fish to naturally fertilize the plants, is a great aid in supplying vegetables to the schools. We even tried the lettuce on the lunch line later at one of the schools and it was very fresh and flavorful!

Aquaponics lettuce

After the farm visit we traveled to a couple of the schools to see how they incorporate farm to school into the classroom setting. At the primary school, the most striking feature was the painted decorations all around the cafeteria. Walking into the cafeteria felt like entering a jungle space as every wall was covered in flora and fauna from tropical rainforests. On the lunch line itself were realistic and cartoon depictions of food items. It is surprising how much a little paint and decoration can really increase the cafeteria environment. I certainly want to incorporate these ideas back into the food environment at my service sites.

Cafeteria painting

Our visit to Burke County was an inspiring reminder of all the exciting things with which farm to school programs can be involved. They use a mobile cooking cart that travels between schools to bring in cooking and nutrition lessons into the classroom across the county. To support their cafeterias, the farm to school program purchases a wide variety of local products including whole wheat flour, a variety of fresh frozen peas, and lettuce from local farms or mills. It is exciting to see farm to school flourishing in a county and it certainly gave me loads of ideas for how we can continue to improve our farm to school influence here in Jackson County.

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Interdisciplinary Enrichment with a Side of Veggies

By FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

Over the past month or so, I’ve had the pleasure of working once a week with a small group from a third grade class.  These kiddos are high-achieving in math, and their teacher wanted them to have an opportunity for enrichment outside the classroom walls.

Cue the school garden.

Garden-based education is particularly well suited for long-term, interdisciplinary projects.  This is fairly obvious when you think about it: plants take weeks and months to grow, so there’s ample opportunity for engagement throughout the semester or school year.

As a service member, I don’t have my own classroom full of students and I’m really not able to plan long-term, multi-step curricula.  The garden is a fantastic place for one-time lessons, but the real potential in garden-based education is for students to continually engage with the garden, taking ownership of the space and learning through real-world experience.

That’s why I’m so excited to work with this group of 3rd grade students, once a week for the rest of the school year.  They’ve adopted a bed in our school garden, and have used their math (area, geometry, line plots, fractions), science (parts and needs of plants, scientific habits of mind), ELA (recording and reporting information), and group communication skills to plant and maintain it.  We hope to harvest at the end of the school year and have the students prepare a snack for their classmates, to practice fractions and measurement, to practice real-life cooking skills, and to learn the joy of feeding and serving others.  We also hope the students will be able to present about their project to others in the school community, to practice their public speaking skills and to encourage pride in their own hard work.

Enjoy some photos from our project so far, and stay tuned for updates!

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Plotting out square feet

 

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Working together to set up our bed for square foot planting

 

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Deciding what to plant

 

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Putting our heads together

 

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Our garden diagram to scale–we have some sure bets (carrots, turnips, radishes) and some experiments (watermelon)

 

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This is a student-driven project–they take responsibility for every part of the process, from planning to planting

 

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Finally warm enough to break some ground

 

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Using line plots to keep track of what we have planted

Garden Inspired Creativity

By: Katie Sanders, FoodCorps service member

For the past few weeks at South Jackson Elementary School, the 5th grade students have been submerged in a large study of microorganisms and their role in our garden space. We started the discussion with the importance of having a balanced ecosystem of microorganisms inside our guts and how that keeps us healthy. Together we learned about foods that are probiotic, meaning that they help to increase the amount of microbes in our guts. We even discussed pre-biotics, or those foods that help to feed our existing gut microbes, and how we can incorporate more pre and probiotic items into our diet. The students then applied this knowledge to the equally important need of having balance in our soil microbial community.

To showcase their new knowledge, the students created advertisements on why farmers and gardeners should want to add more microorganisms to their soil. The students were given few instructions to allow their creativity to blossom and the results were awesome!

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The top 5 advertisements from each grade were chosen by a soil scientist at a local university and the final decision will be made by another expert in the field.

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It was very impressive to see 5th graders discussing biodiversity and microbial interactions  and demonstrating that knowledge in such a persuasive manner!

One student even wrote a rap song featuring a microbial aware opossum. 

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We Like Big Broccoli and We Cannot Lie

by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

This blog post also appears on the FoodCorps Friday feature on Georgia Organics’ Daily Dirt

Avid readers of FoodCorps Friday on the Daily Dirt might remember that in September, the FoodCorps Georgia team visited Level Grove Elementary in Habersham County to teach a lesson and help second grade students plant in their garden (and if you don’t remember, don’t worry, because I just told you).

After months of careful waterings, gentle tucking-ins under ground cover, and hopeful watching, the broccoli planted by Mrs. Laura Traudt’s second grade class flourished into big, beautiful crowns.

A few weeks ago, the second graders harvested their hard work, plucking florets from the stem and carrying them inside to cook.  Practicing knowledge of fractions and kitchen skills, they made greek yogurt broccoli salad and lemon zesty broccoli with pasta (two recipes from Level Grove’s taste test repertoire).

Everyone tasted both recipes–after a year and a half of school wide taste tests, we at Level Grove know the benefits of a “try things” attitude–and wrote a persuasive paragraph about why their preferred recipe is the superior recipe.

This experience from seedling to plate has me thinking about the reciprocity between the broccoli, the students, and the service member.  The students grow the broccoli by watering, weeding, and watching.  The broccoli grows the students by offering experiential learning opportunities and expanding their palates for healthy foods.  The service member grows the students by facilitating those opportunities and creating a safe, inclusive learning environment.  The students grow the service member–my students grow me–with constant reminders of small and essential truths.

Small and essential truths like the privilege of watching a plant grow from a slight seedling to a hearty harvest–and to know that one’s own hand had a part to play in that growth–is one of the purest and most reassuring joys of life.

Small and essential truths like that of our ultimate vulnerability–our ultimate dependence on minuscule molecular processes and the tender loving care of other creatures.

Small and essential truths like how that ultimate vulnerability makes relationships of reciprocity–like those between the broccoli, the students, and myself–the great happiness and the great purpose of service.  I’m grateful to FoodCorps, Georgia Organics, the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, my teachers and my students for the opportunity to live in that happiness and that purpose every day.

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September sunshine welcomed our broccoli seedlings to the garden

 

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Chilly temperatures over winter break were no match for Level Grove’s farm to school dream team and our love of big broccoli

 

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Everyone say, “Broccoli!”

 

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As always, farm to school lessons help us practice cooperation and sharing, whether we’re sharing our harvest or cutting board real estate

 

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Lots of little hands make light work

 

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Closing our eyes to practice experiencing new flavors

 

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It’s a hit…

 

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… with some of us. But we know it’s okay not to like something, as long as we do our best to be adventurous eaters

Insect Fun!

By: FoodCorps Service Member Katie Sanders

Today at South Jackson Elementary we were lucky to have a visit from Allison Johnson with the UGA Entomology Department Insect Zoo. Ms. Allison visited with our 4th grade class and stayed during our special time with a mix of students from grades 3rd-5th. Although our students are familiar with garden insects that provide pollination benefits, they had not had much exposure to predatory insects and their benefits in a garden setting.

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Ms. Allison was excellent at capturing our student’s attention.

Ms. Allison led a discussion on the differences between camouflage and mimicry in insects and let the students hold a stick bug with its leaf like appendages. She even taught about what makes something an insect or not. Bug friends in the insect zoo included a tailless whip scorpion and a Madagascar hissing cockroach among others.

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The students were able to get creative and draw anatomically correct insects after observing them.

After playing with the bug friends, we discussed with the students about the opportunities to use insects as a food source. Ms. Allison shared with our students that 1 tsp of ground cricket “flour” has an equivalent amount of protein to two ribeye steaks! The students were even able to try out some cricket salsa that had the cricket flour stirred into it. After class we could hear the students talking all the way down the hallway about how they had eaten “REAL crickets!!”

 

Quick and dirty lessons

by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

Garden-based lessons can be difficult to plan and execute.  You’ve got to balance the content that needs to be covered, what’s growing in the garden at the time of your lesson, and the unique classroom management requirements of a school garden.

Garden-based lessons can also be really stinkin’ easy.

Today, after a ten-minute chat with one third grade teacher and a few strategic strokes of whiteout, we transformed an “area scavenger hunt” worksheet into a garden-based lesson.  I co-taught three classes of third graders, introducing the mathematical concept of area and how to calculate it by measuring our garden beds and other features of our outdoor classroom.

Ten minutes of conversation, a bottle of whiteout, a box of rulers, and a stack of worksheets is all it took to create a lesson which resulted in 40 minutes of experiential learning for each of 50 students.

40 minutes/student x 50 students= 33 hours of student experience in the garden

Complex and intensive lessons in the garden can be really fun and really meaningful, but it’s good to remember that creating a garden-based lesson can be as simple as measuring a raised bed instead of a desk, counting seeds instead of Skittles, or calculating the cost of broccoli instead of basketballs.

Just make sure you have the whiteout handy.

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Slight smile as we master a new skill

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Taking on the challenge of our longest garden bed!

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Ms. Susie got a little bit distracted from quality photo taking (because look at how pretty and green those carrot tops along the left are!)

 

 

Garden Learning in the Winter

By: FoodCorps Service Member Katie Sanders

Although it may not seem like we’ve had typical winter temperatures the past few days, our garden activity has been still been quite limited since our return from winter break. With that limitation, my service has involved a good amount indoor garden lessons and preparation for the upcoming spring plantings. Last week in our cooking class we made kale smoothies with our 1st grade students that included kale, apple cider and frozen bananas. Simple, yet delicious, and the students absolutely loved them! We even discussed  how our bodies use the nutrients from the apples, kale, and bananas.

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Mr. Lush showing our eager students the smoothie making process.

Kindergarten has been preparing for spring planting in their own way by creating plant part posters with real seeds on them. The students will be able to take these home with them and (hopefully!) be able to grow some spring veggies when they plant them in the ground. The seeds that they glued on included lettuce variety seeds and kale seeds!

Since our return from the break the deer have still been relentless in their destruction of our garden. With the help of a wonderful donation from the local Home Depot, I was finally able to secure our garden beds with deer fencing and keep them safe. Already I see a big difference in our plants now that they are not getting chomped on every night!

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The deer fencing is a little hard to see but all the better to take care of those unsuspecting deer!

 

 

 

The Gift of Turnips

by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

As y’all might have noticed, the Northeast Georgia Farm to School blog went silent for the past couple of weeks.  Our staff enjoyed a bit of time off over the holidays, and we hope y’all did, too, cozying up with good food and good people.

I stayed warm and fuzzy all break long, just by reminiscing about Chuck and Amy Mashburn’s visit to Level Grove Elementary.  For those who might not have had the immense pleasure of meeting Chuck and Amy (or of trying trying Amy’s incredible Burmese peanuts), they farm at Mill Gap Farm in Rabun County.  In addition to growing and preparing some of the best food in Northeast GA (I’m not kidding about those peanuts, y’all), Chuck and Amy actively support farm to school programming in the area, and have done so since NEGA F2S’ inception.

They visited LGES’ fourth grade students a few weeks ago, bringing along gorgeous photos of Mill Gap Farm and even more gorgeous hakurei turnips for tasting.  The visit formed an extension for a writing project the fourth graders completed in November, persuading readers to shop locally for their food. After learning and writing about the benefits of knowing your farmer, students actually got to know a farmer, asking Chuck and Amy all sorts of questions about their land, their growing practices, and their decision to sell locally.

The best part of the visit (at least in Ms. Susie’s hungry opinion) came when we all got to taste the hakurei turnips, both raw and some that Amy sautéed with the greens, butter, salt, and pepper.  After over a year of taste tests, LGES students know the benefits of a “try things” attitude, and oh boy, were there benefits!  It required several servings of both the sautéed and raw turnips to decide, but raw turnips won the day with the fourth graders, who decided to ask our cafeteria staff to consider putting them on the lunch line.

This kind of concrete learning opportunity–in which students get a tangible experience that connects directly to what they learn in the classroom, and then use that experience to advocate for locally-sourced turnips on the lunch line–is a Farm to School dream.

A thousand thanks to Chuck and Amy for making that dream come true.  If you’re considering trying some hakurei turnips for yourself, Mill Gap Farm sells on the year-round, online Northeast Georgia Locally Grown Market.

(Don’t forget Amy’s Burmese peanuts. Seriously. Not a joke. Y’all have got to try the peanuts.)

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Chuck shows students photos of Mill Gap Farm, while Amy chops and sautés 

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Amy’s incredible knife skills+the fancy new tools in our mobile cooking cart=turnip magic

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4th grade teacher Brandi Burrell can’t pass out seconds of raw turnips fast enough

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Eager hands shoot up in response to that enticing questions, “Who wants more?”

All About Sweet Potatoes

By: FoodCorps Service Member Katie Sanders

This week at South Jackson Elementary School was all about the glorious sweet potato. After hearing of decreased interest in sweet potatoes on the lunch line, I decided to run a couple of taste testing opportunities to try and spruce up our consumption. Thanks to our friends over at Cedar Grove Farm we were well stocked with beautiful (and huge!) sweet taters.

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The sign from the taste test is now displayed up on the wall outside the cafeteria.

On Tuesday I set up a taste test booth outside the cafeteria and served up sweet potato chunks that were roasted with cinnamon sugar. Our school’s student ambassadors, made up of 4th and 5th grade students, volunteered during their lunch time to assist with the tasting. They took statistical data on whether the other students tried it, liked it, and would try it again. We had 277 students try them and out of that group, 212 students liked them and would try them again!

On Wednesday I used my time with my after school club, Sprout Scouts, to be able to let the students decide how they wanted to cook up sweet potatoes. They all chose to make chips out of them with salt and pepper. Surprisingly, even some of the Sprout Scouts who declined the taste test from Tuesday tried the chip version and loved them!

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Apparently crunchy and salty is better than sweet and soft.

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Enjoying the sweet potato crisps!

Thursday was the main event though, as that was the day that they were serving sweet potatoes on the lunch line. Even after the increased sweet potato propaganda this week and the taste tests, the potatoes still weren’t the favorite lunch line option. It is funny how set children are on their dislike of sweet potatoes. However there were a few examples of sweet potato love. I had a handful of students who tried them for the first time and actually liked them! As well as more than one student telling me that they tried them on the lunch line after having them at the taste test. I’m learning that these little victories are what FoodCorps is all about so I’d say sweet potato week was a success!

 

The December School Nutrition Team of the Month is…

by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

… Habersham County!

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Andrea Thomas showing off her selfie skills and our new garden beds at Level Grove Elementary

I dropped by the office of Andrea Thomas, Habersham’s School Nutrition Director, the other day to chat about farm to school and what it means to her and to our county.

In school nutrition since 2003, Andrea joined Habersham’s team as School Nutrition Director in March of 2014.  Educator, coordinator, and overall superstar Teri Hamlin did much of the work to launch Habersham F2S in the years prior to Andrea’s arrival, with vital support from then-SND Paige Holland.  Andrea credits our current program to their passion and dedication, insisting that, “without [them] it wouldn’t have started at all.”  Andrea jumped right in to the F2S movement, and the arrival of Habersham’s first FoodCorps service members, Sumer Ladd and Ian Rossiter, in the fall of 2014 bolstered the program’s classroom connections and school garden components.

With that strong foundation, Habersham continues to make F2S a substantial part of its School Nutrition Program, with expanding school gardens, school wide taste tests of Georgia-grown items, and a successful FFVP program.  Each menu created by Andrea and her staff highlights a Georgia-grown Harvest of the Month item, which cafeteria staffs feature on lunch trays throughout the month (speaking of lunch trays, Andrea’s favorite school lunch tray features chicken and is piled high with mashed potatoes, fall vegetables, fruit, and white milk).  Andrea’s F2S goals for the 2016-17 school year include procuring the best-tasting, most affordable meats, fruits, and vegetables for the program, and to continue earning recognition from Georgia Organics’ Golden Radish Awards.

What motivates Andrea and her staff to achieve those goals?  A holistic understanding of the value of F2S for students and the greater Habersham community.  As Andrea explains, F2S means bringing, “fruits and vegetables from local farmers into the school, allowing students to have access to them.  Students know where their food is grown, and it keeps local money in the local economy.”  Andrea adds, “it should be more nutritious since it hasn’t run around in a truck and gone to Cuba and back before we get it.”

How does Habersham School Nutrition go about achieving their F2S goals?  By putting faith in the cafeteria staff members, the boots on the ground who feed thousands of students every day. Of all the fantastic things her school nutrition program accomplishes, Andrea is proudest of her staff and their daily efforts to make a difference in kids’ lives.

As a second year service member in Habersham, I’m more than a little biased when it comes to our School Nutrition Team. From the district office staff–who make local procurement happen–to the cafeteria staffs at CES and LGES–who put their blood, sweat, and tears into our taste tests (metaphorically, of course)–I am blessed to serve with these folks.  Their dedication to serving our students the very best, day in and day out and year after year, is incredible.