More than lunch: the academic benefits of farm to school
Photo credit: Salem County Vocational Technical Schools
By Beth Feehan, New Jersey Department of Agriculture
We know farm to school activities are an effective approach for encouraging kids to try healthy foods, but what are the benefits of farm to school in the classroom? The short answer: there are many! With curriculum potential for courses from carpentry to English, farm to school education encompasses 21st century skills and offers engaging, hands-on learning experiences for all students.
Salem County Career and Technical School in southern New Jersey is a shining example of the academic benefits of farm to school. With the guidance of FoodCorps service members and support from school administration, this high school went from zero farm to school programing to nearly 100% class participation within one year. What started as a simple school garden is now a cross-disciplinary learning space for nearly all of the school’s 600 students.
For example, agriculture students dug the garden beds, and environmental science classes planted the vegetable seeds. The construction class created garden infrastructure by building a shed, trellises and compost bins. Art students designed garden signage, and the welding class built a blender bike so garden produce could be turned into smoothies. Now, English classes use the space for creative writing inspiration, and health students use the garden’s vegetables to learn about skeletal structures.
Perhaps the most delicious classroom connection comes through the culinary arts department, whose kitchen classrooms are linked to the garden via an exterior door. Culinary students help harvest and transform the garden’s fresh produce into taste tests for their peers. Some of the dishes they’ve created include mustard-green pesto on bread made in the school’s bakery, and arugula-radish salad with local apples. The arugula salad received such a great response from students that the school’s food service director has added it to the lunch menu.
Beyond the garden, the school teamed up with two other FoodCorps sites to design and build a Farm2You mobile classroom, which visits nearby schools to educate students about local food. The Farm2You van also sells fresh, local produce, which parents can buy when picking up their students from school. Automotive technology students helped build the vehicle from the shell of an old minibus, and computer-aided design and drafting students created a floor plan for the interior. Based on those plans, construction and welding students built the van’s interior shelving system. Graphic design students got involved by creating the Farm2You logo, and the agriculture students pitched in by contacting local farmers whose produce could be used to stock the van's shelves.
During the 2014 Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week, New Jersey Department of Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher visited the school to see all of theses great farm to school activities in action. While touring the school that day, it was clear just how much of an impact the school’s garden and farm to school programming have had on the school community. It has taught students about healthy eating and local agriculture, and united the entire school around a fun and impactful cross-disciplinary project with practical lessons that will stick with students for many years to come.
As Salem County Career and Technical School has demonstrated, farm to school education enhances student learning across the board, from encouraging critical thinking and problem solving, to fostering creativity and collaboration. Farm to school is not only effective in getting kids excited about local food, but engages students in hands-on learning activities and lessons that go beyond school walls. This is just one school’s story, and there are thousands more. It’s how we know farm to school works, and it’s why we’re celebrating National Farm to School Month!