Last Fall, South Hill Elementary School first graders left their classrooms for a moment and surrounded a small raised garden bed a few steps away from the building. Feathery green stalks overflowed from the garden, arching out of the boxes.
Damon Brangman, a garden educator with CCE and father of one of the students, explained how to harvest carrots. First, reach down to find where the stem meets the ground, and pull up, he explained, taking care not to rip off greens before pulling up the carrot. The kids dutifully followed his instructions, and then squealed shouts of “I got one!” and “Look at mine!” and “Mine’s huge!” or “Mine’s tiny!”
Carrots of all shapes and sizes sprung from the ground. Damon had planted the carrots seeds back in August, and then worked with the first grade teachers, Patti Levine, Sarah Hoffmann, and Danielle DeSilva, to help implement a gardening curriculum. After harvesting the carrots, Damon returned to teach the children how to turn the carrots, along with apples, into juice, which they then sampled.
The first grade teachers explained how the program got started: “Three years ago, now retired educator Nancy Marino was inspired by a project at an Expeditionary Learning School. … The curriculum was an integrated one, focusing on ways to bring the community in to their classroom. As she read the article, she kept saying things like, ‘Oh, I have done this focus before in another way’ or ‘Ithaca would be the perfect community to enrich this curriculum.’ That night she read the document, Nancy became so excited. She got a large piece of paper and started brainstorming the different focuses she could see happening in Ithaca. After several days of adding to this list, Nancy had the basic ideas of how our Farm to Table integrated curriculum could look. Nancy knew that her long career was coming close to an end and she wanted to do something new, adventurous and valuable in her last years. Simply put, Nancy wanted a challenge. Little did she know how it would unfold and how dramatic and intense curriculum it would become!”
The teachers continue: “From Farm to Table: Healthy Food for All People is a yearlong integrated curriculum focusing on several types of farms, the role bees and earthworms play in farming, social justice and farmworkers rights, and demystifying the journey of providing healthy food from the farm to the table, for all people. Our goal is to keep this curriculum whole, rather than offer skills and concepts in a fragmented and isolated manner. We ask critical thinking questions, pose problems, provide factual clarification and information, give support or suggest new and stimulating materials and avenues for explorations. We believe that this curriculum is different from all others adopted in the district because it is a yearlong focus and integrates with every area of learning.”
The South Hill Elementary School program is just one of many gardening and food curricula being implemented around the county and the country. In Trumansburg schools, for example, teachers are using the Food is Elementary curriculum, developed by Antonia Demas as part of her PhD research at Cornell PhD and now share with more than 3,000 schools nationwide.
“One of the best things to come out of the program is the connection we are able to develop between families and the school,” the South Hill teachers say. “Farm to Table events bring families into school to celebrate students’ learning. Several powerful and meaningful community connections have also evolved from this. Connecting with local farmers, colleagues at DeWitt Middle School, central office staff, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and Taste of the Nation, just to name a few. Theses collaborations have afforded students to not only share locally but, regionally and globally as well.”
Image credit: Photo by AF