Lopez Island School
Healthy Lessons to Last a Lifetime
Lopez Island School
Our goal was to expand an existing farm-to-school program for the high school to a school-wide initiative that would provide a more comprehensive curriculum for all ages, and healthy, fresh food for the cafeteria grown in school gardens by students. The Lopez Island Farm Education Program encourages K-12 students to learn about gardening, nutrition, and the environment; reduces the risk of childhood obesity and illness related to diet; provides the cafeteria with fresh, locally grown food year round; and promotes a sense of community pride.
How we are doing it
A part-time garden teacher visits each elementary classroom weekly, using experiential, garden-based curriculum to teach literacy, social studies, math and science. Students witness the life cycle by starting seeds in indoor lights towers before heading outdoors to plant and care for their crops, pick the harvest, and collect seeds. Back in class they prepare a fresh-from-the-garden snack on a mobile cooking cart, learning to make nutritious snacks. Even the music teacher uses the garden for inspiration, teaching students to play garden tools to accompany their songs.Using three high tower greenhouse tunnels, middle school students gain a lesson in solar energy and grow a variety of fresh, organic produce year-round for the school lunch menu. High schoolers experience the whole “seed-to-plate” cycle in an elective class at a nearby biodynamic farm where they prepare soil; plant and transplant crops; and care for the farm's animals. They also learn to make butter, cheese, yogurt, breads, vinegars and sausage in the farm kitchen. The L.I.F.E. Farm and Garden Program has inspired Evening Meals at School, a monthly, communal meal offered to all island residents by donation and held in the school cafeteria. Sponsored by the Lopez Locavores, the dinners are prepared by local chefs with fresh ingredients from the island. Students also learn about community service through Lopez FRESH, a local food bank that receives excess produce from the gardens.
What we are learning
Students are learning that healthy, nutritious food tastes good. If students grow the food themselves, they want to try it, and they often find a new, favorite vegetable. Providing bowls of fresh garden vegetables (carrots, zucchini or green beans) on cafeteria tables encourages students to eat a healthy snack while they wait their turn for lunch.Students who eat healthy food such as locally grown meat and produce learn that eating healthy tastes better and it’s better for you. They will ask before they eat: “Is this local meat?” By involving everyone from the groundskeeper to the superintendent in the planning and education process, the L.I.F.E. Farm and Garden Program has become a school-wide effort and a source of pride. One of the biggest challenges in maintaining the gardens is making sure the beds are tended and nurtured during the summer months while students are on vacation. Although schools may initiate their own garden program, they will need public policy and funding to help sustain it on an ongoing, meaningful basis. It makes sense for public policy to support a farm/garden education program like L.I.F.E. because the health and education benefits far outweigh the costs involved. It is worth it!