Casey Hardi was a second-grader at Pioneer Elementary School when his interest in food was first piqued.
Given that his teacher that year was Dorothy Peterson, it’s no surprise that interest developed in the school garden.
“My class had the privilege of being included in the Farm to Schools program at Pioneer Elementary School,” he said recently. “Watching the plants grow and learning how to take care of them sparked my mind as a youngster.”
In fact, he said, “ever since Mrs. Peterson’s second-grade class, I have had a hunger to learn about and explore the world of food.”
He interned after high school at Konditorei Austrian Pastry Cafe in Davis and now works in a pastry shop in Carmel. Hardi attributes his path to those early days in Peterson’s class at Pioneer.
“(It) led me to what has become my career path today,” he said. “I am forever grateful for Mrs. Peterson’s class involving the gardening program.”
He’s not the only one.
Toby Frandsen is another former student of Peterson’s. And while gardening with her at Pioneer didn’t spark an interest in food as it did for Hardi, it has sent him in another direction. He is studying environmental science at Sacramento State University and looks forward to a career spent out in nature, protecting the environment.
“Being in the school garden, the hands-on part of it, definitely changed how I view the world,” Frandsen said.
And though he’s long since moved on from Pioneer, Frandsen, now 25, frequently returns to the gardens there, in part to make sure his contribution is still standing.
Back when Frandsen was in second grade, Peterson noticed his artistic side. She also noticed a wooden pillar in the garden that looked a bit blah. So she asked him if he and his mom would like to do something with it.
Frandsen ended up drawing a design on it that incorporated children and gardening and his mom helped him carve the design into the wood, resulting in a beautiful totem pole for the garden.
“It is a dedication to the teachers and students who have nurtured nature over the years at Pioneer,” he explained. “It was our hope that it would help inspire children to plant seeds and see how their caring could change the world into a more beautiful and bountiful place.
“It always made me smile as a boy to know that something so small as a seed, when planted with care, kindness and continual love, could grow into something so wonderful.”
That sentiment is what led Frandsen to recently refurbish the totem pole. The years and weather had taken their toll on the wood, so he recently took it down, repaired, stained and sealed it, and returned it to its rightful place in the garden.
Students like Hardi and Frandsen, says Peterson, “show how the farm-to-school programs influence the lives of our students over the years.”
“You just never know how your influence is going to affect them,” she said.
And it’s why Peterson — who started the Davis Farm to School Connection — and so many other Davis teachers and parents remain so active in the program.
This school year will be no different, with many farm-to-school activities planned, kicking off with National Farm to School Month in October.
Events already have taken place throughout Yolo County, like the Hoes Down Harvest Festival, Art Harvest and more. Still on the agenda are activities planned for children at the Cool Davis Festival next weekend, a Future Farmers of America and Agriculture Education day at Davis High School on Oct. 20, and the annual Davis Farmers Market Fall Festival on Oct. 27.
And the fun doesn’t end when November begins. Davis Farm to School is partnering with the school district and Capay Organics/Farm Fresh to You in celebrating a “Harvest of the Month” all year long.
Each month, the featured fruit or vegetable will be incorporated into the food served at Davis schools.
“When produce is fresh and tasty from the farm,” said Rafaelita Curva, student nutrition services director for the Davis school district, “the kids will eat it because it tastes so good. We do our best to incorporate fresh fruit and vegetables in kid-friendly dishes (and) the Harvest of the Month campaign will reinforce healthy eating habits with our students.”
October’s harvest is sweet peppers, which will be offered at school tastings and in recipes all month. November will feature persimmons. Other harvests of the month include kale, citrus, broccoli, carrots, asparagus and strawberries.
Some of the fruits and vegetables, like kale, can be a challenge if you don’t know how to prepare them, Peterson noted. But with Curva’s expertise, kids will learn just how tasty they can be.
Lear more about National Farm to School Month activities at www.farmtoschool.org.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy