For almost ten years, Ecotrust has been working to develop and support farm to school programs in the West. As the national dialogue about food production continues to take shape, people are increasingly asking questions like: Where does our food come from? Who grows it? Who eats it? Students participating in farm to school programs like the one at Bend-LaPine School District can now answer: Food comes from our school garden and local farms; we grow or raise it; we get to eat it.
Ecotrust and the network of supporters of the farm to school movement work hard for those answers. In 2008, our farm to school team was among the first to start including early childcare settings in the development of these programs. Earlier this year, Ecotrust launched a mini-grant program to boost the farm to preschool movement in Oregon. Farm to preschool programs work to make those shortened pathways from dirt to fork accessible and exciting to the youngest members of our communities.
The fall issue of Edible Portland includes a story about New Day School, a preschool in southeast Portland that is investing in their young students, watching them grow up with soil on their hands and vegetables on their minds and in their mouths. What follows is an excerpt.
By Kerry Newberry
Photos by Shawn Linehan
Ten students frolic along a path, passing flowering cilantro and Swiss chard leaves the size of elephant ears. One pauses to point out a ladybug, which leads to an impromptu lesson from gardener Suzanne Stone about aphids. Another student marvels at periwinkle-blue borage blooms, an opportunity to teach companion planting and culinary herbs.
This is a garden class at New Day School in southeast Portland, preschool for two-and-a-half to five-year-old children that enrolls between 80 to 100 students throughout the year.
Classes take place in two brightly colored buildings, behind which is a playground and a half-acre garden plot. Beds of edible greens, heirloom vegetables, and kitchen herbs sprout among berry bushes and fruit trees — a mix of fig, plum, apple, and cherry, which number close to twenty.
Today, under a blue sky, Stone is leading the Skylark class. Each five-year-old student holds one hen-speckled bean in their hand. “Let’s plant our bean and cover it with a blanket of soil,” says Stone, as the group gathers in what is known as the kitchen garden.
After tucking the beans into the earth, the class serenades the seeds to grow: Stone asks the students to shout to the sky for water and then whisper to the seeds so they know who they are. A chant of “Ireland Creek Annie Bush Beans” follows in unison — the class claps with each syllable of the bean’s name.
The garden classroom at New Day School is one example of a farm to preschool program — a growing movement that connects young children (ages 0 to 6) with local foods. The farm to preschool movement was born from the thriving national farm to school movement, which, until recently, was focused primarily on children in grades K-12. About five years ago, a growing body of evidence surfaced showing that long-lasting habits and attitudes toward food are formed before children enter kindergarten.
Because of the hands-on gardening classes, students at New Day School are aware that food does not come from the supermarket. “It comes from soil, sun, rain, red wiggler worms, hard-working hands, and the love of a gardener,” says Stone. It gives them the foundation for understanding food as it connects to the health of the planet, the people who grow food, and their own bodies and minds.
“These child-care centers are raising a new generation of children who are going to have a connection to their food system that was starting to be lost,” says Stacey Sobell, Ecotrust’s farm to school manager, who also leads the national farm to preschool initiative on behalf of the National Farm to School Network. “Now they will be making different choices as they become young adults — choices that will impact not just their own personal health, but also the health of their families and entire communities.”