Project Duration: 2014
Date of Report: 5/31/2015
Project Description and Results: This grant, in conjunction with others, was used to start a farm to school program at Hancock High School. Multiple grants were secured, equipment and a 30’ X 96” movable high-tunnel was purchased. Due to the withdrawal of a key partner who owned the land that was to be farmed adjacent to the high school, the project is not completed. There were several project goals meet as an alternative to greenhouse production, and a plan is in place to fully implement the program next school year.
1. Teachers planned and taught a school-wide thematic unit centered on food and agriculture. For the entire school week, teachers incorporated agriculture, healthy eating, and food into their curriculum. The week was also filled with guest speakers, field trips, cooking.
2. During this thematic week 4 raised bed gardens were established and planted.
3. In the biology classroom students helped local farmers by soil blocking, germinating, watering, and transplanting seeds and seedlings in the attached school greenhouse.
4. A sustainable agriculture and cooking class was established and will be taught for the first time next school year. This class will erect and run the greenhouse on the school property next year. To pull off this farm-to-school project, several grants were necessary, not all grants came through so pulling off a project of this size was difficult. Second obstacle was an administration that was very supportive in approving the project, but not as eager as I started asking for space and for them to hold up their end of the proposed project.
Background: Before receiving this grant I was somewhat involved in teaching youth sustainable agriculture. My wife and I run a small organic CSA so we are very familiar with farming practices and have shared our knowledge to youth and adults through the farm. I wanted to bring this knowledge into the public school arena, and work with these kids on healthy eating.
Staff survey to gauge interest in starting a farm-to-school program with K-12 integration.
Host a Community meeting to share the idea with the community and engage community support and volunteers.
Greenhouse purchase, raised, and in production for year-round salad greens. Purchased, but not in use.
Curriculum Planning so sustainable agriculture and healthy eating are intertwined with existing curriculum K-12.
Process: After teaching a healthy eating and sustainable agriculture unit in my Biology classes, students told me they “get it,” they know they need to eat better and wanted to. But they told me that their parents don’t cook, so they do not have the tools to eat well. So I put the brakes on, found some grant money, purchased food and took a week to teach these 75 students how to plan a weekly menu, shop smart, and how to cook from scratch. It was by far the most impactful teaching I have ever done. I heard back from many parents thanking me. I knew the growing and cooking food need to be a class at my high school. I should have made sure I had more commitment from community partners and administration before trying to implement. I did the best with what I had, and have slowed down and planned how the rest of this project will reach completion. I tried to move faster than anybody else was willing to. Slow down gather your support!
People: Community support from a community presentation and planning session. I had representatives from administration, school board, local growers, city council, district teachers, and district food service personnel.
Dignity Farm assisted with equipment, seeds, compost, and tasks that students could get their hands on right away, helped this local organic farm start their seedling at the high school.
MSU extension provided soil testing at our site.
Outreach coordinator from Marquette food coop provided many key details from successful and failed school greenhouse projects, also with grant proposal review and editing.
Hancock high school staff engaged and implemented our week-long healthy eating thematic unit.
Results: Teacher survey proved 90% support for a farm-to-school program with K-12 sustainable agriculture and healthy eating integrated across the curriculum.
Community meeting showed considerable excitement that this would even be a possibility for our school district, resulting in a 40 person volunteer roster ready to engage in the project.
A 30’ X 96’ movable gothic high tunnel was purchased from Four Season Tools. Greenhouse still in storage.
Week long sustainable agriculture and healthy eating thematic unit was implemented high school wide. It was an overwhelming success from student surveys.
Students constructed, planted, and harvested 4 large raised beds on school property. Students loved this project, they checked out plots daily during class time.
Discussion: Don’t go too big to fast. I shot for the moon and fell short. Partners were not willing to move as fast as I wanted to. I needed to slow down, get folks back on board, and pull off this project over several years, not one. Administration signing off on the grant proposal does not mean they will follow through once the project has arrived. Students saw how easy it is to start a small garden and actually cook the produce it produces. Students started demanding a more healthy school lunch and less waste in the kitchen. These students realized they did not really want artificial herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers on their food. All surveys showed considerable support for positive change in the school cafeteria, and students gaining the skills necessary to eat a more healthy diet.
Outreach: The majority of outreach was in the form of the community presentation, and students sharing class activities with their families. Several newspaper articles were written about our proposed project. I presented our project at a local-food day-long workshop in our community. Once the full project is implemented, more media coverage and a community newsletter, and regular communication with our volunteer roster will be included.
Program Evaluation: Process was fair and not a burden to complete. It is just difficult to report out on a project that did not complete its goals in the allotted time. Hopefully others will learn from my pitfalls and mistakes.