Third graders at Conklin Elementary School in Rockford, Illinois had the opportunity to discover how seasonal fruits and vegetables grow and travel to their classroom. Called Farming in the Class, this is a program that is a collaboration with Annie Hobson, 4-H Youth Metro Educator, and Grant McCarty, Local Foods and Small Farms Educator.
“Annie asked me to take the programming that I do and tailor it for students. I knew that I wanted to focus on seasonal fruits and vegetables, food miles, and crop families,” said Grant McCarty. “Each week is a different family or group. So it has been cucurbits (squash), apples, root vegetables, and leafy greens. Students tasted different varieties and looked on maps to see how far the food traveled to get to their school.”
While students learned about where their food comes from, they benefited in other ways. “This program provides youth with the opportunity to be exposed to positive youth development, as well as understanding geography and how it relates to the food that they consume every day,” stated Annie Hobson.
By incorporating seasonality, food miles, and plant growth characteristics, McCarty helped students understand that the food in their grocery store doesn't necessarily come from the Rockford region. “I think that is an important piece to get across. While Rockford growers can grow a cucumber, the cucumber they find in the grocery store may have been grown in California,” McCarty explained.
He sees the hands-on component of the curriculum as equally important. “They’ve stuck their hands in pumpkins to remove seeds. I’ve made modified soil buckets for them to pull out beets and carrots. They’ve tried different apple varieties and leafy greens” shares McCarty.
The Farming in the Class program will continue at other Rockford schools in the winter and spring.
For more information, contact Annie Hobson firstname.lastname@example.org, Grant McCarty email@example.com, or the University of Illinois Extension office serving Jo Daviess, Stephenson, and Williamson counties at 815-235-4125.