KINGSTON, Wash. – As the local food movement grows, schoolyard gardens are becoming nearly as ubiquitous in Washington public schools as standardized tests. So it only makes sense that some of the grub makes it on to the lunch line.
This school year at Commodore Options School on Bainbridge, students partook of school-grown potatoes. Next school year, students at Wilkes Elementary on Bainbridge will eat produce they helped grow at the Morales farm. And students at Gordon Elementary in Kingston have even bigger plans. If the summer goes well, in the fall students will be eating tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, spinach, broccoli and lettuce grown in beds at the school.
“That’s about as local as you can get,” said Mel Gallup, a teacher at Gordon who coordinated the massive gardening effort.
The plan to serve the produce in the lunchroom was just approved by the North Kitsap School Board. All the projects were helped along by a 2008 state law that eased regulations to allow locally grown food in public schools, established the “Farm To School” program to connect schools with local farmers, and provided funds to buy locally grown food for schoolchildren who come from low-income homes.
At Gordon, Gallup and his fourth- and fifth-grade students started the gardening project in 2009. Now the school is home to 17 raised beds filled with compost created with lunchroom waste. Each classroom cares for a bed. Gallup’s class has taken over an unused greenhouse at Kingston Middle School, too. The students have 4,000 to 5,000 plant starts in the greenhouse now.
Initially, produce from the Gordon gardens was served as classroom snacks. But Gallup and his class made a plan to expand to the lunchroom. NKSD Food Services Director Dan Blazer checked with the Kitsap County Health Department regulations and got the OK from the school board.
Once the produce is harvested, students will perform the first washing. Lunchroom staff at Gordon will perform the second, all in accordance with Kitsap County Department of Health Regulations, Blazer said.
Gallup said it’s great to see students eating vegetables they might once have rejected. “It could be the novelty,” he said. “I don’t know the psychology behind it, but I know it happens.”
On Bainbridge, Commodore Principal Catherine Camp said students were also more apt to try new vegetables, such as Swiss chard and spinach. Gardening was also tied in to the curriculum. Commodore has big plans for 2010-’11, too, with a garden that has doubled in size.
Wilkes’ program is part of the EduCulture Project, which has been developing farm-to-school programs on Bainbridge for the past three years. Wilkes students have planted potatoes, corn, sunflowers and sugar pumpkins on publicly owned land at the Morales farm. Three local farmers will help oversee the effort, according to an e-mail from Jonathan Garfunkel, of the EduCulture Project.