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School cafeteria to serve home-grown produce thanks to grants

In 2012, when Justin Davidson and Courtney Leeds, co-founders of Schoolyard Farms, began putting in a one-acre farm at Candy Lane Elementary School, their goal was to educate students about home-grown food.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Candy Lane students, left to right, Benjamin Barajas, Lily Rasch, Abby Purscelley and Brandon Criss cut up purple majesty potatoes to make potato salad. Two years and a lot of vegetables later, they have a new goal.

“By teaching the students how to grow their own food, we are empowering them to go home and do it themselves. Our hope is to build a network of edible gardens that radiate out from the Schoolyard Farms hub,” Leeds said.

That goal seems imminently doable with the news that the farm has received grant funding from Clackamas County’s Healthy Eating and Active Living, Lowe’s Toolbox for Education, and The Whole Kids Foundation School Garden to expand the school-farm program.

The funds will enable the school to build a perimeter fence around its one-acre farm, an outdoor classroom, shed and greenhouse, Leeds said.

She is asking for volunteers to come out to the school from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 31, to help get the process started.

“We will start construction on our outdoor classroom and a perimeter fence that day, and everyone is welcome. We will provide activities for the kids and end the day with a potluck meal,” Leeds said.

Visitors can also meet Brooke Hieserich, who has come on board as the education director of all the educational programs, teaching the students at Candy Lane and designing and running the summer camp.

Farm summer camp

Although Candy Lane Elementary is located in Jennings Lodge near Gladstone, it is in the Oregon City School District. It is a Spanish-language immersion school and Merit Green School, certified by the state of Oregon for its resource conservation, waste reduction and water conservation. Students who attend the school are in third, fourth and fifth grades.

Once the outdoor classroom is constructed more than 250 Candy Lane students will use the classroom as an outdoor science lab, as well as a kitchen where they will prepare fresh, healthy meals with produce from the farm, Leeds said.

During the summer, Schoolyard Farms will use the farm and classroom to host Farm Summer Camp where first- through sixth-graders will learn where their food comes from and how to grow and cook it.

“The students will really get to immerse themselves in the farm and grow or develop a relationship with the outdoors. I’m most excited about the opportunity for the kids to cook with the produce from the farm. Every day they will harvest a different vegetable and prepare a simple meal,” Leeds said. “It’s so exciting to see kids get really excited about eating vegetables because they’ve helped grow and cook them.”

Students can sign up for camp at schoolyardfarms.org/summer-camp/index.html. The cost for one week is $250, but readers can get 15 percent off by entering the promo code: CLACKAMASREVIEW. There are a limited number of scholarships available, as well.

Creating fruit, vegetable eaters

With the addition of the perimeter fence, the school will be able to serve produce from the school’s farm in the cafeteria, making it the first school in the district to do so. It is projected that produce from the farm will be served at the cafeteria’s salad bar in the fall, Leeds said. This is significant for two reasons.

“Our goal at Schoolyard Farms is, essentially, to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables so they can be healthier, and by growing food on-site, we are increasing our community’s food security,” Leeds said.

“When the kids are learning in the garden, they are developing a relationship with their food that increases their chances of liking fruits and vegetables, but the key to developing healthy eating habits is getting them to eat the produce. It’s important to get the food that they’ve watched and helped grow into the cafeteria because they will be more likely to eat it than food they didn’t grow,” she said.

Leeds noted that the more fruits and vegetables youngsters eat, the more likely they will be to continue eating them throughout their life.

As for food security, Leeds said that a one-acre farm like the one at Candy Land can “produce up to 10,000 pounds of produce per year. Should there be an emergency and the school or surrounding community is in need of food, we could accommodate their needs. Additionally, we are modeling how to grow food on a small scale, which can be replicated at home.”

Student involvement

Students get really excited about coming out to the farm, Leeds said.

“We really try to connect what they’re learning in the classroom with what’s happening on the farm, so we design lessons around soil science, life cycles, decomposition, habitats and other topics that they are learning in the classroom. We teach these concepts through hands-on lessons, so the students are given context for what they’re learning in the classroom, as well as practical garden skills,” she said.

An example of this is a lesson she has been teaching about soil — how the texture is determined by the ratio of sand, silt and clay, why that matters, and how students can measure these ratios.

“We had them dig up a sample of soil, mix it in a Mason jar with water, and wait a week to see how the layers settled. By learning about soil composition, they will be better prepared for their standardized tests and will be better gardeners,” Leeds said.

But as beneficial as the farm is to the students, it has a larger purpose, she said. “This is a community project, and we want to invite the community to get involved. Come volunteer at the farm, become a Community Sponsored Agriculture member, send a child to summer camp, donate — any support will go a long way in making this school farm a success.”

About Schoolyard Farms

Schoolyard Farms creates healthy communities by teaching kids how to grow nutritious food that goes from their schoolyard to their plate.

The co-founders hope to one day see a farm on every schoolyard that can provide food for its cafeteria. Programs include ecological farming on underused schoolyards, access to fresh food through CSA memberships, farm stands and the school cafeteria, garden-based education, summer camp, farm tours and after-school programs.

To learn more about Schoolyard Farms, visit schoolyardfarms.org, or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Call Courtney Leeds, co-founder and director of Schoolyard Farms, at 503-513-4323.

Sign up for Farm Summer Camp at schoolyardfarms.org/summer-camp/index.html.

Community volunteer day is from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 31, at Candy Lane Elementary School, 5901 S.E. Hull Ave., Jennings Lodge.




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