Students at Rosedale Middle School are getting a firsthand understanding of the phrase “farm-to-table.”
The school started its first farm-to-table class this year, which tasks around 20 students with growing trees, fruits and vegetables in the school’s small orchard and garden. The students, mostly eighth-graders, also get to pick the crops and use them in cooking.
“They get to take part in the whole process, from seeding to pruning to the harvesting,” said Melissa Richert, who teaches the class. “So many kids these days just think ‘Oh, I go to the grocery store,’ when they’re asked where their food is from. They don’t see that it takes time to grow it and take care of it. I think being part of that whole process makes them appreciate their food more.”
Richert said the school has a wide range of crops that the students grow, from fruits including plums, peaches and apricots to vegetables such as corn, radishes and okra. The school even has cotton that the students pick.
While students spend a significant amount of class time outside, there is some traditional learning in the classroom, where students learn some of the science behind gardening. Richert said she also tries to apply other subjects such as math and Language Arts into the curriculum.
“It’s a very science-based class, but with a real-life application,” she said.
Richert said she came up with the idea for the class shortly after she got hired at the school last year as a life skills teacher. Toward the end of last year, Richert said her class was asked to cater for a dedication event for the school’s new gym, and it was at that time that the idea first popped into her head.
“We tried to have something from the garden in all the dishes we were doing,” she said. “That got us thinking about doing more. The school’s orchard and garden have been here for about five years, but it was never really used that much.”
After months of planning, Richert was finally able to teach the class when the new school year started this August. While the class has only been in operation for less than a month, Richert said she believes it’s been successful.
“These students see this project as their baby,” she said. “They have really taken ownership of the garden. They are so concerned about the outcome.”
Eighth-grader Ryan Jockers said he’s enjoyed the class so far.
“I love gardening. I love growing stuff,” he said. “It’s cool to be able to say I grew my own stuff and cooked it. It’s a really cool opportunity.”
Jockers said one of his favorite aspects of the class is being able to work as a team with his fellow students.
“We’re working together as a group to make progress toward making a better garden,” he said. “It’s been a great learning experience.”
Fellow student Emily Barrett said she enjoyed being in Richert’s life skills class last year and was interested in participating in the farm-to-table class. She said for the past couple years she has been managing her own small garden at home.
“I really like gardening, and I thought it would be really fun to expand our garden at school,” she said. “Not a lot of people at our school knew about (the garden), but now a lot of them do.”
Barrett said gardening can be difficult, dirty work, but she said she thinks it’s rewarding in the end.
“Gardening isn’t just planting seeds, watering them and coming back the next day and you have a fully grown plant. You have to do a lot of dirty work in between, which is difficult, but we all work together and get it done,” she said. “Part of the fun is you can start something really small and you can work hard and see it progressively grow into something you can use.”
Richert said it’s one of the major goals of the class for all students to see and understand that connection.
“I’m so excited they have to opportunity to do that,” she said. “We’re going to keep working and keep making (the orchard and garden) better.”