In celebration of Virginia Farm to School Week, I recently visited Charlottesville Public Schools to learn about the district’s garden and Harvest of the Month efforts. Here’s a snapshot of what I observed that day.
We push a cart piled high with plates of green beans down the hallway stopping at each classroom. Noses press against the glass in the doors and teachers urge students to sit down, as the door cracks open to excited chatter. The green beans are passed off and we are on to the next classroom, getting to every class in just under 30 minutes. It’s only 9:30 in the morning on October 6 at Burnley-Moran Elementary School and the Harvest of the Month taste test is off to a great start!
Teachers accept the green bean delivery in the morning and work the tasting into their school day. The third grade teacher, Mr. Lorigan, allows me to sit in on his class as he takes a short break from their regular class to have students guess what he is holding above his head. Wiggling hands raise.
”Beets?” one student asks.
He gives them a hint, “These vegetables are long and have seeds.”
“Eggplant?” another child responds.
Mr. Lorigan says, “No, they are green!” Students shout out answers until one says “green beans!”
Each student receives a small plate of beans. Mr. Lorigan shares a few green bean facts and connects it to a recent science lesson, some students are apprehensive about the first taste and others dig in, eating all them in the blink of an eye. The more timid students are encouraged to take a tiny taste and everyone chats for a minute about what they like about the beans, many say, “the garlic is yummy!” The entire lesson, including cleanup, is done in 10 minutes – as I leave, Mr. Lorigan admits that he enjoys Harvest of the Month day as much as his students.
Yes, the green beans are local (and delicious!), but this week, so are many of the products in the cafeteria during Virginia Farm to School Week. Plates are piled with local apples, potatoes, greens and even local beef! All Charlottesville City Public Schools participate in Virginia Farm to School Week with support of local organizations and non-profits including - City Schoolyard Garden (CSG) and Local Food Hub. With support of a 2016 USDA Farm to School Grant, CSG was able to expand their Harvest of the Month programming to Charlottesville City High School (CHS) this school year.
We head over to CHS to visit with teacher and garden lead, Peter Davis, and meet with the new food service director, Mr. Carlton Jones, who has not only embraced this program, but has also seen an increase in participation, thanks to his efforts in the past six months.
With the support of CSG, the high school designed a teaching and tasting garden complete with shed and teaching space. Davis calls his program Garden to Market and on a daily basis leads special education 9-12 graders through gardening lessons to teach basic entrepreneurial skills. The classes have been selling their harvest, including vegetables and flowers, to teachers and hold a seedling sale in the spring. Mr. Davis also runs an after-school garden club that is primarily made up of ESL students, which also allows those students to practice language skills and earn community service hours.
CSG currently manages eight garden spaces at the district’s six elementary schools, Buford Middle School and Charlottesville High School – encompassing over 26,383 square feet of diverse organic gardens with over 25,505 student interactions each year. CSG is growing their vision that young people thrive with the opportunity to engage with nature, enhancing their academic learning through hands-on experience and cultivating skills for healthy living. CSG’s Harvest of the Month program connects the garden classroom to the cafeteria, linking students, teachers and food service.
Inspired by Charlottesville Public Schools? USDA is currently accepting applications for the Farm to School Grant Program, which assists eligible entities in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. Consider applying for a grant to bring more local food into school meals, promote healthy eating habits and expand markets for American farmers and producers.