October is Farm to School Month, and local students dig in to organic crops

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Students from Tiffany Gales second-grade class at Sauvie Island Academy try plants from the Grow Lunch Garden, a garden planted, maintained, and harvested by visiting students with the help of Saivie Island Center staff and volunteers. Students tasted a variety of plants to understand the six different edible plant parts, including roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds, said Shawna Hartung, education program manager with the Sauvie Island Center. During national Farm to School Month, second-graders with Tiffany Gale’s Sauvie Island Academy class spent the day with the Sauvie Island Center learning about compost, the food web and harvesting produce Wednesday, Oct. 9.

The Sauvie Island Center, a nonprofit operating on Metro land leased by Sauvie Island Organics, aims to offer two trips a year to area schools to provide students with an understanding of the cyclical nature of farming, said Joanne Lazo, marketing manager with the organization.

As part of Farm to School Month, the Sauvie Island Center will be celebrating National Farm to Preschool day Friday, Oct. 18, by awarding a local preschool with the opportunity to visit the farm.

Sauvie Island Center also plans to celebrate Food Day, Oct. 24, by inviting a local chef to the Grow Lunch Garden — a garden planted, maintained and harvested by area students with the help of Sauvie Island Center staff and volunteers — to prepare a lunch for area seventh-grade students.

Typically, Sauvie Island Center receives local schools Tuesday to Friday from mid-September to mid-November and mid-April to early or mid-June. Through the summer, the center also holds a summer camp wherein students are fully immersed in a farming program.

Shawna Hartung, the center’s education program manager, said during this year’s summer camp students took a New Seasons chef on a tour of their garden before receiving a farm-to-table meal prepared by the chef. Students would also make daily salads from the garden for lunch, Hartung said.

“It was really cool to see them get creative with their salads,” she added.

“You can’t help but be excited when you hear kids yelling and fighting over vegetables,” Lazo said, as students exclaimed their love for celery at the Grow Lunch Garden.

Unfortunately, Lazo said, due to staff shortages and few available days, the Sauvie Island Center isn’t able to offer the intended two trips per year, per school consistently. “We’ve been branching out,” she said. “Sixty to 65 percent of the schools that come through are Title I schools.”

Title I schools denotes a federal classification for allowing subsidized lunches, she explained.

Lazo said Title I schools always qualify for scholarships with the Sauvie Island Center and are able to visit for free, including transportation. It’s a value Lazo says amounts to about $375.

“A core component of our mission is to serve underserved youth,” she said. “Kids who don’t have access to organic, fresh produce. We want to provide that opportunity.”

Two years ago, the organization received a grant from the Allen Foundation to be more self-sustaining, and has since worked to receive more private contributions, relieving the organization from having to constantly apply for grants, Lazo said.

The Sauvie Island Center receives schools from Columbia County, southeast Portland, north Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro and a number of private schools, including Sauvie Island Academy.

Recently, Lazo said, there has been a real movement to engage students in farming at a younger age. As such, the Sauvie Island Center has been seeing preschoolers come through the program as well as elementary school students.

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