Last school year, Bellingham Public Schools was selected to participate in a garden-to-cafeteria pilot program through Slow Foods USA along with three other districts nationwide. Andrew Nowak, director of the National School Garden Program of Slow Food USA, visited Whatcom Middle School and their school garden in the spring to review a draft of the Garden to Cafeteria Toolkit for our district. He was onsite sharing his expertise about the various steps necessary to harvest food from a school garden and to prepare the harvest to serve on the school lunch line. After his visit, executive chef Patrick Durgan and executive director of Common Threads Farm Laura Plaut joined Nowak at a national conference in Cincinnati, Ohio to share the toolkit with schools across the country.
The overall goal of the toolkit is to help incorporate fruits and vegetables that are grown in school gardens into cafeterias in a safe and beneficial manner.
This food education program allows students to participate in the full circle of the food system from prepping and planting in the garden, harvesting those crops when ripe, and then sharing the “fruits” of their labor with their peers in the cafeteria.
Fresh garden tomatoes from the Whatcom Middle School school garden will be on their salad bar this September. Other schools like Carl Cozier Elementary and Kulshan Middle School also harvest fresh produce from their gardens and add them to the salad bars.
An excerpt from the introduction in the toolkit:
“Why school gardens?
In Bellingham, we make a collective commitment to our children. This is the heart our district’s strong and unique strategic plan, The Bellingham Promise. Working alongside children to plan, build, plant and harvest gardens in our schools is a daily demonstration of our commitment to children and to our community. School gardens are wonderful classrooms. Students experience first hand how to tend a garden, grow a plant, harvest, clean, prepare and eat delicious whole foods. They build skills, develop observational abilities, and learn to make connections between their work and the environment at large through dynamic, fun, hands-on learning that lasts a lifetime.
In our district, we also believe in encouraging a lifetime of healthy eating and recognize the link between food education and lifelong healthy behaviors. Our wellness policy says our students “learn where food comes from and how it is grown, as well as how to make healthy choices and how nutrition impacts their bodies and growth and development. In our school gardens, children put The Bellingham Promise in action: gardens empower students to discover and develop a passion; care for and contribute to their community; feel cared for and respected themselves; and understand how learning is lifelong and essential to a high quality of life.
Why garden to cafeteria?
Garden to cafeteria is an exciting opportunity for our students to bring their learning full circle. Our schools have a proven history of successful garden education; students harvesting their crop and providing produce to our school cafeterias is a both a pragmatic learning opportunity and a point of pride. We want our students to share their work with their friends. We like to hear students proclaim, “I grew that!”
We know that when children are engaged in growing and preparing healthy foods, they are more likely to eat them. And when children get in the habit of making good food choices early on, there is a dramatic decrease in their risk of suffering from food-related health issues such as hunger, diabetes, and obesity. School gardens have lasting impacts that improve kids’ physical, mental and social emotional health, setting them up for a lifetime of well-being. School gardens that provide food for the school meal program help make the cafeteria a rich learning environment, too.”