Beth Ann Kempf’s 1st graders harvesting lettuce. Cheyenne Marris, Mason Halton, Adelaide Ayers, Wil Kogut, Mabel Shaw, Tenley Sherman, Logan Harris, Johnny Falter, Gryphon Foster and Max Nichiporuk. (submitted photo)
Students in the Cazenovia School District are now growing their own food for meals prepared in the cafeteria.
In September, the school district purchased five indoor super grow systems to grow and harvest vegetables year-round. These systems were placed in all three buildings: one system in each of the three cafeterias, a system in the agriculture classroom and a system in a science classroom.
The initiative is part of the Farm-to-School movement which improves access and sustainability to local foods while enhancing educational practice. The growing and harvesting process empowers students to make informed food choices, learn how to grow their own food and garden, how to process food and how to help sustain the environment.
From kindergarten to 12th grade, students learn where their food comes from, the biology of plants and plant growth, recycling of nutrients in the soil and the proper care for plants and soil nutrients. In addition, students will be eating fresh vegetables year-round.
All produce loses its nutritional value the longer the time is between picking and eating. Eating fresh cut produce is the healthiest way to ensure students are getting the full impact of nutrients in your produce.
With the grow systems, the seed-to-table journey happens in the cafeterias, under student supervision. Students pick and eat vegetables on the same day. No greenhouse gases are emitted and no questions as to what happened to the produce along the way. There is no contamination occurring from the rack to the table.
After harvesting the plants, the students mix the soil with plant amendments that restore the nutrients and it is composted and used again in 60 days.
Students enjoy the process and state how good the vegetables taste. Several first graders commented on how good the lettuce tasted and one stated that she had never tasted lettuce before. Students in the high school and middle school were surprised how rapidly the plants germinated and grew. Lettuce is cut on Monday and is ready to be cut again by Friday. It is a community effort of growing, harvesting, and processing the food, bring everyone together in the process.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.