The kitchen at Eleanor Roosevelt Circle was bustling last Tuesday, packed to capacity with fifth-graders who were busily preparing lunch for residents, using the fruits and vegetables they’d planted in September and harvested earlier that day.
There would be vegetable soup on the menu, with dumplings no less, kale chips and persimmon cookies.
And once it was all prepared, these 28 Birch Lane students would sit down with the senior residents of Eleanor Roosevelt Circle for a festive holiday meal.
Students Madison Rutherford, Skylar Schouten and Mimie LeValle were looking forward to the meal, knowing they would be making the day a little brighter for some members of the community.
They’d been told that the seniors “love to talk to kids,” Skylar said.
And they are especially likely to appreciate kids who grew, harvested and prepared the food for them, Mimie noted.
The students’ efforts started at the beginning of the school year, when Robyn Waxman visited two classes of fifth-graders at Birch Lane to discuss FARM Davis’ “Grow & Give” project.
The collaborative effort, which also includes the Davis Food Co-op, would involve students spending a day at FARM 2.6 on County Road 95, preparing and planting a 600 square-foot garden. In December, they would return to harvest what they grew, take it all to Eleanor Roosevelt Circle, and under the direction of the Co-op’s Julie Cross, prepare, serve and share a meal with residents of the low-income senior housing cooperative.
When Waxman first visited the students in September, asking them what they would like to plant, they still had summer fruits and vegetables on their minds, so she had to remind them what grows in the fall and could be harvested in December.
After much discussion, the students voted on what they wanted to prepare for the meal, settling on vegetable soup, kale chips and persimmon cookies.
Soon after, all of the fifth-graders in Sally Palow’s and Lakshmi Aradhya’s classes headed out to the farm. There they spread manure, planted seeds and harvested persimmons, which would be frozen until students were ready to use them in December.
Periodically over the next few months, Waxman — whose daughter is a student in Aradhya’s class — would send photos of the crops slowly growing, while she and a FARM Davis intern from UC Davis handled the periodic weeding and transplanting.
“We babied their babies,” Waxman said.
Things got a little dicey earlier this month when temperatures dropped precipitously. Waxman ended up harvesting the peas before the fifth-graders’ scheduled return to the farm or they wouldn’t have survived.
But return the students did last Tuesday.
It was another freezing-cold morning out at Farm 2.6. But cold or not, harvest time was nigh.
“We played some games and drank hot chocolate to warm up,” Madison said. “Then I harvested bok choy.”
Skylar and Mimie, meanwhile, were among the students harvesting kale.
Once they’d finished their work at the farm, the students were driven to Eleanor Roosevelt Circle, where Cross was on hand to teach them how to make all of the menu items they’d selected.
They mixed up the ingredients for persimmon cookies — the Co-op donated the butter and other ingredients needed for the meal — and began preparing all the vegetables for the soup, chopping everything from carrots to bell peppers to onions and everything else they’d planted.
Nearby, tables were being set and decorated for the lunch with the residents.
It’s that sharing part that Waxman said is so important to FARM Davis.
While farm-to-school is a cherished program in Davis, she noted, this adds an element of community service, of generosity, to the mix.
“Our fifth-graders are learning many valuable lessons from the Grow & Give project,” she said. “They are learning the process of giving something back to the community and not just thinking about what they would get in return.”
Donating a portion of the harvest is a key principle of FARM Davis, of course. The 5-year-old organization donates half of the weekly harvest from three area farms to food agencies that serve low-income and homeless people. Since the beginning of 2010, FARM Davis has given more than 3,300 pounds of food to Davis Community Meals and César Chávez Plaza, an Olive Drive apartment complex serving low-income and formerly homeless residents.
Now, kids are a part of the mix.
“This is our first foray into kids participating,” Waxman said of the pilot project.
And it has worked out so well, she plans to involve another group of fifth-graders for a February planting and spring harvest.
In the near future, Waxman would like FARM Davis to be able to hire a part-time farm educator who could oversee multiple fifth-grade classes planting and harvesting at area farms. In addition to more funding, she said, that also would require more local farms donating small plots for the project.
But she’s hopeful as word gets out about how successful this pilot project has been, more people will step up and make Grow & Give a much bigger program in Davis.
Learn more about the program and FARM Davis at www.farmdavis.org.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy