SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Three Salem schools soon will shrink the distance from farm to plate to less than 100 feet.
Students at Parrish Middle School, Leslie Middle School and Grant Elementary will tend raised-bed gardens that will furnish greens and other produce to the lunch line as well as provide educational opportunities. It's part of a $45,000 Oregon Department of Agriculture grant that eventually could lead to similar programs across the state.
The Oregon Legislature created one the country's most comprehensive farm-to-school programs in 2007 in order to connect students with local farms, nutritious food and provide a better understanding of where food comes from. The school garden effort is an extension of that movement.
Already, Leslie's gardening class delivered several batches of fresh lettuce and herbs to the school's cafeteria this fall.
And one sunny afternoon last month, the kids learned plant identification up close when they observed the difference between weeds and cilantro seedlings.
"If you're not sure," said teacher Consuelo Kammerer, "what do we do?"
"We smell it," a few of her students answered.
Her students also learned to build a compost pile, how to transplant vegetables and how to water plants but not drown them.
"That's why I love this class," said Taylor Irwin, 11, "I get dirty."
The grant will help expand the program through field trips and includes money for a part-time garden coordinator who will develop teaching tools, gather supplies and help coordinate after-school programs at all three schools.
Other groups have stepped up to help the school garden effort including Sodexo, Salem-Keizer's food service company, which kicked in gardening tools and supplies. The city of Salem also donated $1,000 to help Leslie build a greenhouse and get the garden program at Parrish off the ground.
This week, Parrish environmental science teacher Fran Alexander and her students constructed three raised beds on top of an asphalt breezeway after school. Students built the beds deep, about 24 inches, to help them drain better on the asphalt.
Victoria Rodriguez, 13, excitedly held the power drill in place as it punched pilot holes for the screws. She said she wants to grow lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cauliflower.
Alexander will use the beds to teach students the stages of plant life something that was difficult to do in the classroom, where plants didn't thrive. The garden beds, on the other hand, provide a unique learning opportunity.
"It's connections with the soil, it's connections with the cycles of life, growth and putting things on your table," she said.
"A lot of students don't get an opportunity to work with soil," she said, "It's the first experience for some of these kids."
She plans to apply for another grant to install a greenhouse so they can start seeds in winter, too.
The nonprofit Salem-Keizer Education Foundation is behind the recent spike in local school garden efforts and will oversee the ODA grant. Krina Lemons, the foundation's executive director, hopes to expand the pilot project soon to all Salem-Keizer after-school programs.
"There has been such an enthusiastic response by the middle schools that the other schools have said, 'We want them, too' and we're working on ways to get gardens to schools that want them."
The foundation will develop a cookbook of sorts to help other schools follow the most successful recipes to build and operate school gardens.
Lemons sees a wide variety of education benefits including math and science, teamwork, organization, geometry, how to plot a garden and lots of writing opportunities.
Gardens are a type of therapy as well, she said.
"It's a way to really be in touch with what's important."
Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.