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Farm to (Classroom)Table

by Vaun Thygerson
Contributing writer and mother of three

Eighth graders Kate Brown and Hallie Keese pick ripe pomegranates and lemons from their school garden and use them to make lemon pomegranate cookies as part of their Farm to Table class curriculum at Rosedale Middle School (RMS) taught by Melissa Richert.
Every day the Farm to Table class offers different tasks for students to learn about farming and cooking processes, from planting to watering to pruning to making healthy food to eat. 

"I have learned how to work with others and how to do things for others," says Kate. "I like this class because Mrs. Richert makes it a safe place to come every day and makes it fun." 

"Farm to Table is a wonderful addition to our campus. It's one of only 22 programs statewide recognized as a CDE Exemplary Program for 2019. Farm to Table allows students to engage in real world higher order thinking skills in a broad array of areas: agricultural business, finance, environmental sciences, and health," says Tom Board, Principal of Rosedale Middle School. "The program is also fun, and it gives students another way to feel connected and successful at school." 

When Mrs. Richert came to RMS in 2017 as the Life Skills teacher, the school garden, which had been tended to by volunteers and teachers, was not being fully utilized in the school curriculum. With her background in math, music, and science, and her love for curriculum development, she designed this new Farm to Table class to not only have students experience a real, hands-on education using core subjects, but it also cut down her Life Skills budget for fresh produce. 

"I want to give students a chance to start a healthy lifestyle with a healthy image of nutrition," Mrs. Richert says. "I want them, by being part of the growing process, to have a willingness to try new foods."  

The garden is sectioned off into different areas, with every student having his or her own role in its success. In the space, there are more than 40 trees, a grape vineyard, an herb garden, a greenhouse, and rows and raised boxes with all kinds of vegetables and produce. The students take care of everything within the garden, including its future plans. And, they even help decide what kinds of food to make from their garden's produce. 

Zane Thygerson, Michael Stout, and Melissa Richert discuss cross pollenation
With the recent removal of a 60-foot fruitless mulberry tree whose roots were depleting the soil, a whole new section opened up. Eighth graders Paris Teagarden, Hallie Dilley, and Camila Flores were tasked to prepare the soil to make rows for new seeds to be planted. During the semester, Paris has also pruned grapes and herbs, made anaerobic compost, and used coffee grounds to combat an ant infestation. 

"In this class, I have learned the basics of farming, planting crops, different ways of composting, and new ways to cook. I've also learned that it takes a lot of teamwork," says Paris. "It's fun, but you're still learning new things."

Mrs. Richert calls the class an inquiry-based program where she takes some direction from the students' interests and questions. They are even assigned their own tree in the orchard to nurture and name. "I want this to be their little baby," she says. "I want them to be a part of the decisions so that they have ownership." 

 In fact, two students, Zane Thygerson and Michael Stout, were interested in cross-pollinating two peppers after Zane watched a YouTube video on how the Carolina Reaper was made from a Habanero and a Ghost Pepper. He brought his idea to Mrs. Richert and she came up with a plan to make their very own Bulldog Pepper, named after RMS's mascot, by cross-pollinating a bell pepper with a Jalapeño pepper. Now they're just waiting for the right time to cross-pollinate. "The timing has to be perfect," Mrs. Richert says. 

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Tags: Education, Featured Story, Food & Home, Health, Tweens & Teens

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