Benton Elementary School “Local Harvest of the Month”

Project Overview

YENC08-008
Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2008: $1,370.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Manager:
Jim Ronald
University of Missouri Extension

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: youth education
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Abstract:

    BACKGROUND
    Though I have been involved in a wide variety of projects related to traditional agriculture during my career as a 4-H youth educator, this was my first major project focusing upon sustainable agriculture in the context of local food systems.

    GOALS
    a. First and foremost, students will work cooperatively through direct observation, hands-on exercises, question and answer sessions with local growers, and group discussions guided by teachers to develop working definitions for the concepts of “locally-grown food”, “sustainable agriculture” and “healthy eating choices”.
    b. Students will gain skills in tracing the sources of food from farm to table.
    c. Students will learn to prepare food through simple, healthy recipes featuring the “Local Food of the Month” (which is not currently part of their school experience).
    d. Students will be informed about outside-school experiences to learn more about foods, cooking and gardening through youth organizations such as 4-H.
    e. During the growing season, students will walk to the nearby community garden sponsored by the Neighborhood Association to directly learn gardening skills, worm composting and vegetable harvesting from volunteers.
    f. Students will be given guides for simple learning activities to further explore local foods with family members such as visiting the farmer’s market.
    g. Students will learn to plan and host an annual Local Foods Celebration event at the school.

    PROCESS
    Following the grant award, a steering committee was formed to help guide, plan and coordinate project activities and has remained intact and fully functioning through the grant period. The steering committee is composed of the Benton School principal and assistant principal, the president of the Benton Stephens Neighborhood Association, the president of the Benton School Parent Teacher Association (PTA), a representative of the Benton Stephens Neighborhood Garden and myself, 4-H youth specialist for University of Missouri Extension. Though invitations have been extended through the Neighborhood Association and the PTA for other volunteers to join, no additional members have come forward to date.

    The first challenge of the committee was to plan a format for the Harvest of the Month activities that would work within the school schedule, including the schedule of the visiting art teacher who would lead the craft activity of the program. The 1 pm to 3 pm time period was agreed to work best (including set-up and clean-up) and is the schedule that has been followed. Each program was divided into three components with two classes rotating through the following stations:
    1) A presentation by the farmer/grower of the featured Harvest food staple. This included a PowerPoint showing pictures of how the staple is grown and how the staple travels from farm to table. Examples of the varieties and various value-added products associated with the staple were also featured.
    2) A hands-on cooking experience in small groups using the food staple as part of a recipe using fresh, local ingredients where possible. This activity was planned and led by the neighborhood Association, Neighborhood Garden volunteers and Extension staff.
    3) A craft activity led by the art teacher that featured the food staple item.
    This format has served the project well during the grant period and will continue to be the basis for future Harvest programs planned at the school for the spring semester using local funds.

    one variation of this format was prompted by request of the school principal and some background information is necessary: Shortly after the application for the SARE Youth Educator grant was submitted last January, a grant was submitted to the University of Missouri Extension’s Healthy Lifestyle Initiative to build raised beds at Benton School to begin a gardening project. Funds were awarded in March, 2009 and construction and installation of the raised beds was completed in April in an area designated area on school grounds. The school designed and planted a “salsa garden” composed of tomatoes, peppers and cilantro and maintained it during the summer school session with help from volunteers during the August recess.

    One outcome of this garden project was an interest in teaching the students about compost and perhaps setting up a program to recycle lunch food waste in a composting program at the school. The Harvest steering committee received a request from the school principal to feature compost as our first program for the new school year and, with permission from the SARE grant coordinator, plans were put in place.

    The main collaborator for the compost program was the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture (CCUA) whose mission is to demonstrate the viability of urban food production. Students were rotated though three learning stations that included: a) hands-on instruction on worm composting; b) basic information about the composting cycle at the school’s new bulk composting bins (newly constructed by the CCUA volunteers on the school’s back lot) and c) a field trip to the CCUA’s demonstration gardens and hoop house. Following the program, each classroom was given a specially prepared plastic bin, a starter set of worms and instruction for vermin-composting using cafeteria food scraps.

    PEOPLE
    The Harvest Project Steering Committee:
    Troy Hogg, Principal, Benton Elementary School
    Tami Ensor, Assistant Principal, Benton School
    Kip Kendrick, President, Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Association
    Susan Eggener, Chair, Benton Elementary Parent Teachers Association
    Kathy Doisy, Representative, Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Garden
    Jim Ronald, 4-H Youth Specialist, Boone County University of Missouri Extension
    Harvest Program Presenters:
    Vera Gelder, Beekeeper & Manager of Walkabout Acres Farm, Columbia, Missouri
    Matt Seek, Popcorn Grower and Enthusiast, Columbia, Missouri
    Rhonda Borgmeyer, Pumpkin and Gourd Grower, Cadet Creek Farms, Bonnots Mill, Missouri
    Compost Program Presenters from the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture:
    Edwina King, Bobby Johnson, Adam Saunders, Daniel Soetaert, Billy Polansky, Carrie Hargrove
    All the students and teachers at Benton School have participated in some aspect of this program.

    RESULTS
    The primary goal of this project was to teach students how their food is grown, harvested and processed by local farmers and how it is sold through the farmers market and groceries/restaurants that support locally-produced foods. Hands-on, experiential learning was emphasized throughout with students actually taste testing varieties of the featured Harvest staple, preparing simple recipes that could be replicated at home, using the harvest staple in craft projects such as beeswax candles and gourd centerpieces, and mixing the soil, shredded paper, food scraps and red worms for their class compost bin.

    Total students attending the four Harvest programs was 133 with an estimated 40 distinct students (un-duplicated count) attending. As stated previously, all 249 students at the school are participating in the school-wide composting program initiated by the grant. The racial composition of the students was reflected in the overall percentages for Benton School:
    Black 71.9%
    White 22.9%
    Hispanic 3.6%
    American Indian/Alaska Native 0.4%
    Asian 1.2%
    Source: Analysis of Student Population: Columbia School District 2009-10 – Benton School Link: http://www.columbia.k12.mo.us/reports/race0910.pdf

    In a pre- and post- Harvest program questionnaire conducted by the school with one classroom participating in pumpkin program, results were as follows (N=18):
    Pre-Questionnaire
    1) Have you helped grow a pumpkin before?
    Yes – 22%
    No – 78%
    2) Have you ever helped cook a recipe with pumpkin in it?
    Yes – 39%
    No – 61%
    3) How much do you know about the history of pumpkins?
    Not very much – 67%
    Some – 33%
    A lot – 0%
    Post-Questionnaire
    1) Are you more interested in growing your own pumpkins?
    Yes – 94%
    No – 6%
    2) Will you try making Pumpkin Smoothies at home?
    Yes – 78%
    No – 22%
    3) How much do you know about the history of pumpkins?
    Not very much – 0%
    Some – 33%
    A lot – 67%
    Reviewing the grant objectives listed previously in this report, all but the final objective (“…hosting an Annual Local Foods Celebration”) have been completed and the current plans are to schedule this activity in the spring after the Columbia Farmers Market has re-opened to help promote families visiting there.

    DISCUSSION
    First, in reviewing the original project plans versus actual experience, the greatest challenge faced by the steering committee was scheduling the actual programs. Three Harvest programs in the areas of Wheat, Oats and Free-range pigs had to be postponed to the winter 2010 semester due to changes in the availability of the presenters. In addition, finding farmers willing and available to present during busy growing season became a much bigger challenge than anticipated. On the volunteer side of the equation, because the programs were scheduled during weekday working hours for most parents and neighborhood association members, the potential number of volunteers who could help directly was severely limited. The overall lesson learned is that it is best to schedule most Harvest programs during the winter months and work closely with the coordinator of the local farmer’s market to help identify potential farmers who can best communicate with youth audiences. A new Harvest project which recently formed at a nearby school based upon our model (they consulted with us before their start-up) is planning programs every other month from late fall through early spring.

    Secondly, we learned that the actual costs associated with each harvest program is potentially much less than we originally anticipated. For example, three of the four presenters made partial donations of the harvest staple for the cooking and craft activities and one presenter donated their stipend back to the project. In two instances, we were given partial donations of ingredients for cooking activity when the seller was informed about the purpose of the purchase. As a result, we have scaled back our projected fundraising needs as we continue the Harvest program past the SARE grant start-up period. We have already received a smaller local grant to support the program through the remainder of this year and the Neighborhood Association has begun discussions of fundraising event for spring.

    Finally, the new initiatives and relationships supporting sustainability education now set in motion by this grant are its most exciting outcome. The creation of an on-going, school-wide composting program was completely unanticipated but is now a model that other schools in the district have begun to inquire about. The new relationship with the educational resources and expertise of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture is on-going as the school plans to expand its raised-bed “learning garden.” And in an exciting new development, the school and neighborhood association recently received preliminary grant approval to build a hoop house at the neighborhood garden (two blocks from the school) that will be used for extended season and winter growing, with hands-on student learning a significant part of its mission. Based upon these successes and the network of committed supporters, we expect even greater accomplishments in 2010.

    OUTREACH
    The primary avenues for Harvest program outreach were: a) the Benton School newsletter, b) the monthly Benton-Stephens Neighborhood e-newsletter, c) the Columbia Missourian newspaper’s “neighborhood beat,” and d) the monthly Benton-Stephens neighborhood “coffee shop.” Attached to this report is a copy of the generic flyer that was used for volunteer recruitment. Copied below are the articles about individual Harvest programs that appeared in the Columbia Missourian. All four of these outreach methods will continue to be used as the Harvest program continues beyond the SARE grant pilot project.

    BENTON BEES BEGIN HARVEST OF THE MONTH CLUB WITH HONEY:
    By Amy Brachmann, Gregg Johnson
    May 7, 2009 / 12:01 a.m. CDT

    Columbia – In Benton Elementary School’s first Harvest of the Month Club session Wednesday, fifth-grade Benton “Bees” learned about their mascot’s namesake and the valuable crop they produce – honey.
    Jim Ronald, a 4-H specialist, talked to the students during the session.
    “This is the very first time we’re doing it. We decided to start with you all because it’s your last year at Benton,” said Ronald, who volunteered along with Benton-Stephens neighborhood residents Kathy Doisy and Kip Kendrick. “It’s appropriate to start with bees because you’re Benton Bees.”
    Joyce Coats* and Jamie Becker’s classes rotated through stations where they made honey treats, examined a beehive and rolled beeswax candles.
    Vera Gelder of Walk-About Acres brought a beehive and jars of honey from her beekeeping farm. She said she regularly makes school presentations and hosts field trips to the farm, which has 15 beehives and includes goats, rabbits, emus, pigs, chickens, ducks and geese.
    “(the kids) love it. They always have lots of questions,” Gelder said. “We teach them about honey bees, all the things they do and why they’re so important to us. One out of every three bites we eat needs to be pollinated, and honey bees are the best pollinators.”
    The beehive she brought to Benton was a small one – with only 3,000 honey bees – she said, but it will have 100,000 by the end of the summer. The fifth-graders asked a variety of questions regarding the queen bee, pollen, how the bees get in the hive, how the honey gets out, why bees sting and if bees fight.
    Gelder took the time to answer every question, sharing with students many interesting facts about honey bees. The queen lays 2,000 eggs per day and has a life expectancy of four to five years, while others live for 45 days, collecting pollen and caring for the queen.
    “They’re taking care of her, combing her hair,” she said of the attendant bees.
    Gelder added that honey never spoils, and 2,000-year-old honey has been found in Egyptian pyramids.
    She explained to the group that honey bees are not aggressive, just territorial.
    “You wouldn’t let just anybody come into your house, ” Gelder said. “And this is hteir house.”
    Ronald, who was a beekeeper for 10 years, showed the group different types of honey from Walk-About Acres before making honey treats with the help of students Tyrone James and Jacob Beck.
    “I got to mix up the stuff and do something fun,” Tyrone, 12, said. “I could taste the real honey. It tasted like cake.”
    All the students got to try the treats, some made with peanut butter and some with raisins.
    “It tastes kind of like peanut butter cookies, but with honey,” Julia Cook, 11, said.
    “When it comes to something new, what’s the most important thin?” Principal Troy Hogg asked the students as the treats were passed out. “Just try it. You might like it.”
    The Harvest of the Month Club will continue in the fall by bringing in local growers to teach students about their crops. Each month, students will have the chance to learn about and cook with locally grown food, usually followed by a relevant art project.

    HARVEST OF THE MONTH CLUB ENJOYS PLAYING IN THE DIRT:
    By Chelsea Deptula
    news@ColumbiaMissourian.com

    The loud squeals of 20 or so fourth-graders echoed across the playground of Benton Elementary School as the students shoved their eager hands into plastic bins of soil. And worms.
    The school hosted its third Harvest of the Month Club meeting on Oct. 2. The goal for the afternoon was to teach students how to create compost piles and use compost to grow food.
    “We’re helping kids learn about how food goes from the garden to the table, then back to the garden,” said Jim Ronald, the Harvest of the Month Club coordinator.
    Friday, the fourth-graders were surprised with a small field trip to the school’s own backyard.
    “We’ve really been working at Benton to become a little greener,” teacher Bethany Morris said. “This is just one more step in the process.”
    To give the kids a hands-on composting experience, a group of volunteers rotated students between two stations:
    1. THREE VOLUNTEERS DEMONSTRATED TWO TYPES OF COMPOST PROCESSES – RED WORM COMPOSTING AND NATURAL MICROBE COMPOSTING. For red worm compost, the kids lined a plastic tub with food scraps, newspaper and dirt. The volunteers and students filled the tubs with dozens of worms. The worms will eventually digest the materials in the tub, creating a natural compost pile. Microbe composting involves creating a pile of manure, sawdust, ha and food scraps. The microorganisms in the materials break down organic matter, also creating a natural compost pile.
    2. THREE OTHER VOLUNTEERS GAVE A TOUR OF THE ST. JOSEPH COMMUNITY GARDEN ON ST. JOSEPH STREET. Walking the students through the garden, volunteers pointed out vegetables and herbs while explaining the growing processes. The kids tasted some of the fresh produce in the garden. The volunteers also showed the kids how chickens can be useful in gardening; they act as natural insect control, provide tilling and supply fertilizer.
    “We also wanted to show kids the garden and introduce the diversity of plants that can grow in an urban setting,” said Adam Saunders, director of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. “The main objective of the garden is to teach people, so bringing tours like this is what the garden is all about. It’s a resource in the community for sustainable agriculture.”
    When the school day was over, the fourth graders at Benton Elementary were left with a few tasks and expectations.
    “The school is going to be composting every day,” said Bobby Johnson, director of education at the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.
    While taking care of the school’s compost, the fourth graders will also have worm bins and microbe bins in their classroom. It will be the students’ responsibility to drop food scraps into the two bins every day. And the composting does not stop there. They’ll get a take-home guide with instructions on making and caring for their own bins.
    Ronald is looking for people to get involved with the Harvest of the Month Club and to help plan the next three events through December.
    Anyone interested in getting involved with the Harvest of the Month Club can contact Jim Ronald at ronaldj@missouri.edu.

    HARVEST CLUB CELEBRATES HOLIDAYS WITH PUMPKINS:
    By Chelsea Deptula
    Missourian neighborhood reporter
    news@ColumbiaMissourian.com

    The subtle fragrance of bananas and Elmer’s glue filled the air of Erika Fitch’s third-grade classroom, as a bundle of kids croded around several desks covered in tiny pumpkins and colored pipe cleaners. Excited shrieks and laughter filled the room, drowning out the sound of scissors on new construction paper.
    Benton Elementary hosted its fourth Harvest of the Month Club on Nov. 16, celebrating one of the more prominent icons of the fall: pumpkins.
    “Pumpkins are part of the holiday celebration,” Harvest of the Month Club coordinator Jim Ronald said. “We eat pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and sometimes even Christmas.”
    During October, fourth-graders at Benton learned about composting, and Ronald hoped the kids would go home with the motivation and knowledge to set up a system at their home. His goals for the November harvest activity were a little different.

    “We’re doing this just so that they know better where the pumpkins are actually grown, how they get to the supermarket and how you can use pumpkins in different kinds of recipes at home,” Ronald said.
    For two hours during the afternoon, the third-grade classes rotated between three hands-on learning stations:
    1. A VOLUNTEER FARMER DESCRIBES THE HISTORY OF PUMPKINS. Walking the students through an informative and fun history lesson, the farmer emphasizes how the gourds are grown and touches on some pumpkin lore, including the origin of jack-o-lanterns.
    2. THE STUDENTS ARE TAUGHT HOW TO MAKE PUMPKIN SMOOTHIES FROM A SIMPLE RECIPE. By combining pumpkins, yogurt and bananas, volunteers from the Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Association teach the kids how to make this healthy snack at home.
    3. VOLUNTEERS INVITE THE KIDS TO MAKE CENTERPIECES FOR HOLIDAY DINNERS AT HOME. Pipe cleaners and construction paper leaves are decoratively tied to the stems of tiny pumpkins to make simple centerpieces for Thanksgiving. The volunteers show the students various ways to spice up their tiny pumpkins, including adding family members’ names to the leaves.
    Third-grade teacher Ann Alofs enjoyed the pumpkin harvest and thinks the Harvest of the Month Club is a “great opportunity” because it provides teachers a way to incorporate learning and connect the content with other classroom objectives. She also likes the way the program promotes independent learning.
    “We had a big breakthrough because someone tried the pumpkin smoothie who’s never one to try new foods,” Alofs said. “She said she didn’t love it. But she tried it, and that was a first. It was a good thing.”
    Benton-Stephens volunteer Kathy Doisy said she was “pleased with the whole idea” and was “on board immediately” when Ronald mentioned he was preparing to hold the harvest events at Benton Elementary.
    “I really enjoy doing this. The kids are fun, and I like doing the art projects,” Doisy said.
    Ronald is planning two more harvest experiences and has narrowed the choices to three themes, including oats and wheat. He hopes to continue introducing young kids to healthy foods and teaching about their origins and purposes.
    “Before this afternoon, only a couple of them had ever had a pumpkin smoothie,” Ronald said “But now, everyone can raise their hands.”

    PROGRAM EVALUATION

    We found the application and reporting requirements of this grant to be just the right balance and not burdensome at all. Joan Benjamin’s communication, encouragement and support throughout the process were especially appreciated.

    BUDGET SUMMARY

    BUDGET ORIGINAL CURRENT CUMULATIVE
    CATEGORIES APPROVED EXPENSES EXPENSES
    BUDGET

    SALARIES/LABOR $450 $150 $150

    MATERIALS & $920 $165.71 $165.71
    SUPPLIES

    TOTAL $1370 $315.71 $315.71

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.