From growing food for their own lunches to providing food for the needy in their communities, Florida students are working the soil in school gardens while also learning about science and nutrition.
Trafalgar Middle School
Just like the fruits and vegetables planted at Trafalgar Middle School, the garden itself seems to keep growing.
“It’s actually five separate gardens,” says Al Piotter, agriscience teacher, advisor for the Builders Club and director of the garden program. “We have a hydroponic garden, a 24,000-square-foot regular garden, the Little Garden, a flower garden and the Garden of Opportunity, which is handicapped-accessible.”
It’s a lot, Piotter says, but that’s what it takes to keep the students enthusiastic and learning, the lunchroom serving a wide variety of fresh produce, and a nearby soup kitchen well stocked to serve the needy population. The flowers are donated to area nursing homes.
The gardens produce nearly 9,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables, filling the school salad bar with arugula, kale and radishes, and school lunch trays with squash and eggplant. Fruits include pomegranates, bananas and mango.
“Anything we don’t use in the lunchroom, we send to the soup kitchen in Ft. Meyers,” Bob Feiler says, assistant for the garden program.
Piotter says the gardens help teach students about science, horticulture, nutrition and helping others.
Seven agriscience classes are involved in the garden project, which also gets support from community volunteers. The project has earned two grants from the Farm to School Program of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
Alachua School District
The Farm to School Hub in the Alachua school system involves two departments – Food and Nutrition and Exceptional Student Education – with one goal: to get as much local food as possible into the school lunchrooms.
“The way we do that is by purchasing from local farms, growing an acre of fruits and vegetables here at the Food Hub, and supporting school gardens in our district schools,” says Kelli Brew, Farm to School coordinator for Alachua County Public Schools.
An important aspect of the Alachua program is providing education and support to students with disabilities, particularly those over 18 who receive public school services until they reach age 21. These students work at the Farm to School Hub learning gardening skills as well as about food safety. In addition to growing food, they repackage food for distribution to the other schools in the system.
“We want to give our students the opportunity to choose super healthy, restaurant-quality fruits and vegetables in our lunchrooms,” Brew says. “They are growing that food in their own school gardens, seeing it grown here on their field trips and then seeing it on their lunch trays.”
The Alachua system used its Farm to School Program grant to buy a refrigerated truck to help with food distribution.
Nassau School District
In the Nassau County School District, the mission of feeding the students goes hand in hand with the mission of education.
“It is important to teach them about the food they consume and where it comes from,” says Dr. Laura Jones, director of Food and Nutrition Services. “The more we can highlight the fresh local products around us, the better for our children and our economy. We love seeing the students enjoy eating fresh, quality foods every day. The better fueled they are, the better they will do in the classroom.”
Nassau schools partner with Traders Hill Farm, an aquaponic farm in Hilliard, to produce and deliver fresh romaine lettuce served daily in the school lunch program. That partnership extends into the classroom. Traders Hill Farm has worked with the bioagriculture program at West Nassau High School and replicated their aquaponics system on the school property. The hope is for this garden to be run by the students and to produce enough lettuce for the high school as well as the area elementary school in the near future.