We think Farm to School (F2S) should be about sharing two things: the joy of gardening and the joy of local food. When we do it right, F2S activities spark wonder, inspire questions, uncover connections, illuminate possibilities. How we share these two things also matters: where do we open windows into others’ lived experience and where do we hold mirrors up to our own, who is included and who is valued, are we cultivating responsibility or moving without consideration?
These can be lofty goals weighed by heavy questions (or heavy questions buoyed by lofty goals) that sometimes feel out of reach, but when we say our staff seek to model a growth mindset we really mean it, and not just for kids. We try things that sometimes work out the way we hope and sometimes don’t; we push ourselves to dig deeper into our own understanding in order to do better; we seek feedback, we adjust, we try again. And like so many others over the last year and half, we’ve had to really flex those growth mindset muscles in new ways. School garden lessons went online, tasting tables went “to go,” and the joys of gardening and local food had to be shared in different ways. We’re proud of the work our F2S team has done throughout the pandemic, especially what we’ve done over the last few months.
In the spring of 2020 our F2S team distributed over 10,000 seed packets to families across Tillamook County when schools closed as an initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic. When students remained home from school for comprehensive distance learning in the fall, we worked with community partners to provide Naturalist Kits to all public school kindergarten through sixth grade students in the county. With these two successful projects under our belt, we set out to do another seed distribution in 2021 and surpassed our own expectations by providing Gardening Kits to over 600 families in April.
Garden Kits by the Numbers:
35,000+ seed packets sorted.
15,000+ packets distributed in Tillamook County.
600+ households including 1,000+ prekindergarten through 12th grade students.
4,500+ packets distributed to partners in Clatsop, Washington and Marion counties.
20,000+ total seed packets distributed. At an estimate of $2.00 per packet, that’s over $40,000 worth of seeds provided to home gardeners—for free.
These Gardening Kits included twenty-two seed packets, a Northwest Garden Bug guide, a booklet of recipes shared by Juntos club families, Food Hero home gardening and vegetable newsletters, and a local hardware store’s coupon for gardening supplies. In addition to these materials, each student in kindergarten through sixth grade also got an “expansion pack” for their Naturalist Kit: a new blank journal and a set of Cray-Pas student oil pastels.
Heidi, a parent from Garibaldi Grade School, emailed us a few weeks ago with this note: “Today my fourth grader brought home a garden kit that included seeds, recipes, a field guide, and a garden journal. Most pieces were dual language. We scored a ton of seeds that included old favorites and new to us like kale and beets (I know, I'm late to the party). We love the field guide on bugs!” We hope these Garden Kits spark wonder for families like Heidi’s, and that everyone’s garden, from a single container to dozens of row feet, is a place where people grow something beautiful together.
Just like any other project our team takes on, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish our goals without incredible community partners. We’d like to give a huge thank you to Oregon Food Bank Tillamook County Services, the Northwest STEM Hub, and OSU-Extension SNAP-Ed, Open Campus, Juntos, and Master Gardeners.
In addition to this year’s seed distribution, our F2S team shared the joy of local food through two Tasting Tables sent out to students in a “to go” Covid-safe style. Usually these tastings are scheduled around lunchtime and entire classrooms get to try their local produce together; this year, tastings were an individual exploration or something students got to do at home with their family. In February, families with students at Garibaldi Grade School and Nestucca Valley Elementary received a comparative apple tasting activity, and in May students at these two schools and South Prairie Elementary received locally grown radishes and carrots to try.
The comparative apple tasting was an idea we’d been thinking about for awhile and loved the opportunity to finally try it! Families received three apples from Kiyokawa Orchards in Parkdale, Oregon: Ambrosia (yellow with pink and orange variations), Granny Smith (the classic bright green pie favorite), and Red Ruben (striped or solid light red). When we bring new foods to students in class, we often try them with all five senses. For this tasting, we turned that guided in-person learning into a worksheet families could use to try these apples together at home.
Next time you eat an apple, try slowing down. What do you notice when you eat it with all five of your senses?
Look at the apple. What colors and shapes do you see? Do you notice other details about the apple?
Tap your fingernail on the apple and rub your finger on the apple surface. What do you feel when you touch the apple? What sounds do you hear?
Now take a bite. What do you hear? How does the apple taste? Does the flavor remind you of other things? Does the flavor change?
Bring the apple to your nose and inhale. What do you smell? Does the smell remind you of something else?
Write down some of the words you use to describe the apple. Keep those notes and next time you try a different variety of apple, taste with all five senses and compare!
The final project we want to share is our most recent: the distribution of almost 700 cherry tomato plants. Volunteers started these seeds for us back in March, and they’ve been carefully tended inside for months waiting for students. Huge thank you to Tana Higdon at Nestucca Valley Elementary for plant-momming hundreds of these beauties! We know growing tomatoes at the coast can be a challenge, but we’re encouraging families to view these plants as an experiment: to take notes, ask questions, research, adjust, and make a plan with new ideas for next time. There are those growth mindset muscles again….
We learn so much by looking closely, and a lot of gardening, and growing plants of any kind, relies on making observations. What color are the leaves? Are they smooth and facing the sun, or damaged or drooping? How does the soil look and feel? Is the plant developing new growth, buds, flowers, or fruit? Where are the pollinators? Are there signs of insects or animals? We’re asking those questions ourselves this week as we finish planting for summer in the hoophouse at the Tillamook Junior High school garden, and will continue to ask ourselves questions about plants and programming as we reflect on the school year coming to an end. What’s next and new? What continues? How will we uncover connections and illuminate possibilities in 2021-2022? There will be joy, gardening and local food for sure, and the rest will unfold. We can’t wait to share it with you.