Murfreesboro City Schools ‘Farm to School’ program provides Northfield Elementary students hands-on experience with harvesting, nutrition

Photo and Story by Eric Goodwin / Contributing Writer

Students at Northfield Elementary School had the opportunity Friday to harvest spinach they planted at one of the school’s raised garden beds as a part of the Murfreesboro City Schools “Farm to School” program, which began December 2014. Some students helped wash and prepare the food to be eaten that day.

Through Farm to School, students in the district have the chance to directly interact with the food they eat at the lunch table.

Farm to School has six greenhouses, eight campuses with raised garden beds and multiple tower gardens at city schools, according to Coordinated Health Counselor Meri-Leigh Smith. Smith said the program “promotes consuming fresh, local and regional foods as a part of a healthy future.”

She said the school district created Farm to School as a way to unite all the efforts to bring local, healthy and sustainable nutrition to students.

“Since this time, the nutrition department and coordinated school health have implemented various approaches to integrate nutrition education, school gardens and community involvement into the district,” Smith said.

Students are directly involved with the program. For instance, harvest days allow kids to collect the food they planted months earlier. At Northfield, second and third-grade classes saw the result of the spinach seeds they planted in their garden.

Farm to School doesn’t stop at greenhouses, raised beds and aeroponic water towers. Smith said that in addition to growing their own food, the district seeks local options for meals in the cafeteria.

“The nutrition department makes it a priority to source as many local foods in as possible,” Smith said. She defined “local” as anywhere within 250 miles of the city.

Kelly Harris, the third-grade teacher, said Farm to School “has sparked an interest in (the student’s) desire to know about the food and knowing how foods have been grown,” as well as their desire to taste new foods.

In addition to spinach, students at Northfield have also grown vegetables and herbs like snow peas, bok choy and basil, to name a few. Students not only plant seeds and harvest the food; they also get to wash, cut and prepare the plants to be eaten.

Viktoria Einecker, the district’s farmer educator, said that some of the students even get to cook the food they’ve grown. “It makes the job easier on the cafeteria staff,” Einecker said.

She said the program also emphasizes cutting down on wasted food. “Somebody had to (plant) the seed, somebody had to take care of it (and) harvest it, so why are they going to do all that for nothing?”

Even Pre-K children play a part in growing the foods. Right outside Ms. Treneff’s Pre-K classroom sits an aeroponic garden system growing spinach, which the students harvested that morning. The system pumps water from the bottom to the top of the tower.

Harris said the different gardening techniques piqued her students’ interest in growing food. “I think they were shocked, especially with the tower garden, on how foods could be grown without the typical growing situation,” she said.

“It’s actually neat to grow the plants,” said LaBrian Shelbourne, a third-grader in Harris’ class.

Shelbourne said his favorite part about Farm to School is “picking (the plants) because you get dirty.”

Shelbourne also said that growing the plants has helped him know how to make different types of salad for dinner instead of picking unhealthier choices.

Third-grader Isaac Witherspoon said he enjoys harvesting the food as well. He said the food he harvested, like basil and bok choy, “tasted really, really good.”

Seeing the current success of the program in Murfreesboro City Schools, Smith said Farm to School will continue to expand in the district.

“Over the next three years, we project to have a school garden on every campus, 10 functioning greenhouses and integration into the classroom through combining science education standards with hands-on learning in the school garden environment,” she said.

Follow Eric Goodwin on Twitter at @mr_ericgoodwin. 

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