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Students dig in to learn about fresh food

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - 3rd Graders from James John Elementary in St. Johns learn about producers, consumers, and decomposition in the woods of Sauvie Island Farms.The standard brown-bag lunch is being challenged by teachers with a desire to show students where their food comes from and how it’s prepared.

The Grow Lunch Garden at Sauvie Island Farms is a learning center where visiting students can plant, tend and harvest their own farm row.

“The kids are always excited to experiment with fresh veggies and tend to like most everything they try,” said Anna Goldrich, executive director at the Sauvie Island Center. “They often tell us they’ll be more likely to eat some of the things they tasted again, and many start right away by filling their pockets with chard and kale.”

Funding for the Grow Lunch Garden came from a $3,700 grant awarded by the Portland Community Timbers Fund. The grant covers everything from plant starts to gardening tools.

“We often hold cooking classes right next to the row, where kids grab fresh produce straight from the ground,” Goldrich said.

The Nike Employee Foundation provides the program with some of the necessary funds to bring students back to the garden on consecutive years.

As the children weed, plant and harvest their farm row, a staff member often heats up a camp stove so students can pile their hand-picked vegetables onto tortillas, hence “offering kids the chance to eat food they’ve participated in growing,” Goldrich said.

Such action reinforces the connection between farming and the food they eat, she said.

Students are continually educated while they plunge their hands into the soil and prepare fresh produce. “We plant a lot of flowers so the kids can learn about pollinators,” Goldrich said.

The Grow Lunch Garden has been around since 2005 and is designed with input from teachers in order to reach science benchmarks through the program.

Goldrich said teachers regularly tell her how much they love the hands-on connection with nature the children are able to experience. She said they also indicate a desire for more educational programs that involve the outdoors.

About 1,500 kids visit the Grow Lunch Garden in a year, Goldrich said. The Grow Lunch Garden promotes a seed-to-harvest curriculum, but implementation can be difficult since spring and fall occur on two different school years. The program also offers a summer camp in order to allow kids a more complete understanding of the agricultural experience.

“Since the students can’t be here all the time, we try to show them how their one day factors in to the annual cycle,” Goldrich said.

The Sauvie Island Center will be recognized on the field at the May 12 Portland Timbers game against Chivas USA.