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Investing in Excellence to Maximize Student Learning Through Nutrition & Outdoor Education

Radishes and blood oranges in school lunches? While past generations associate school lunches with “mystery meat,” Santa Clara Unified School District students are consuming fresh produce daily thanks to the Farm, which has been operating under Santa Clara Unified School District since August 2017. The Farm has harvested over 3,000 pounds of produce that has been served in Santa Clara Unified cafeterias, including rainbow carrots, fava beans, red romaine lettuce, napa cabbage, savoy cabbage, snap peas, radishes, blood oranges, and cilantro.

Over the past ten years, a nonprofit called Sustainable Community Gardens (SCG) ran a farm program called Full Circle Farm on a portion of the fields at Peterson Middle School. When the lease came to its conclusion in July 2017, the district decided to take on the management of the property and educational farm program in order to further expand the opportunities available for District students after the lease expired.

The Farm provides opportunities for SCUSD students to learn about the plant life cycle, produce, and even try fruits and vegetables for the first time. “One of the schools had a radish tasting, and students could rate whether they ‘liked it,’ ‘loved it,’ or ‘not today’,” said Karen Luna, Director of Nutrition Services. “Another student asked how to make tomatoes yellow — we have 12 varieties of tomatoes — and students get to learn about the science behind these variations while tasting a wide assortment,” she continued.

The Farm also exposes students to hands-on, applied learning about the origins of produce. Having grown up in Sunnyvale, Luna recalls when she could walk through the orchards and pick fresh fruit from the trees, which provided her natural exposure to nutrition and biology. Despite the growth in housing and development in the Silicon Valley, the Farm offers an orchard of 200 trees, including peach, apricot, and cherry. “Students eat the fruit that has been off the tree less than 48 hours.  It’s so special that these students still get to go into an orchard and pick a piece of fruit,” she continued. “A lot of the students don’t get outside of this area — they don’t know where fruits and vegetables come from, except from the store,” said Michal Healy, SCUSD Facility Development and Planning Director. “This is one of the bigger education pieces — providing students with hands-on education about the biological processes to explain the origins of the food we eat,” she continued.

“Expanding the Farm’s outdoor educational opportunities and integrating programming with the adjacent Bryan Osborne Nature Area are a part of the district’s long-term goals for the Farm,” said Kathie Kanavel, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services. “With the Next Generation Science Standards having a strong focus on environmental science and human impact, our students will have truly hands-on, real-world experiences with the Farm and Nature Area programs. Also, the growing importance and focus on Career Technical Education provides an opportunity to utilize the Farm for culinary programming beginning in elementary with satellite gardens and continuing through our CTE culinary programs at the middle and high schools.” Kanavel added.

Peterson Middle School’s culinary arts program hosted the first Farm event this past year where students picked produce and created vegetarian pasta dishes in a culinary quickfire competition. Other Farm-related educational opportunities that are being considered by the district include a "Farm Academy" where students could explore other CTE pathways, including sustainability, urban gardening, and entrepreneurship.

Also on the horizon is further cultivation of the Farm’s opportunities to provide nutrition for the schools and community, and hosting events that use its produce. “We want to collaborate more with the SCUSD schools for more special events,” said Healy. “We are also planning for a fall harvest festival and Christmas trees, and dinners on the Farm,” she continued.

Beyond the educational opportunities, the Farm also supports excellence in the district’s nutrition services. “We are giving students the best nutrition we can so they can perform their best in the classroom,” said Luna. “You can’t get fresher than growing your own produce and delivering it to students through their meals. The quality of the food is so much better, and students can take pride in knowing how close they are to healthy foods. This is a reflection of what the community wanted and what is best for students,” she continued.

For more information about the Farm, please visit the Farm webpage. To sign up for the Farm’s newsletter or to become involved with the Farm as a volunteer or business partner, please email farm@scusd.net.