by Melissa Fontaine
On May 23, 2013, students from Los Olivos Elementary School visited Classic Organics Farm in Buellton for an educational and community-minded field trip. The students went to the farm to learn about organic farming, connect with nature in an agricultural setting, and also to harvest produce for donation.
As they stepped of the bus, the students were greeted by Classic Organics Farm Manager Helmut Klauer. He led the students to the fields and spoke to them about biodiversity, soil health, and pesticide-free farming. Then Sue Eisaguirre, the director of NatureTrack, explained the harvesting activity. The group would harvest lettuce and carrots, pack them in boxes, load them into a refrigerated truck, and then deliver them to people who lack access to fresh, nutritious food. The students were ready to get to work.
The idea for this field trip came from Sue of NatureTrack. NatureTrack’s mission is to offer outdoor field trips to schools on the Central Coast so students have the opportunity to connect to the natural world. And NatureTrack is able to offer these field trips at no cost to the school, since all of their staff are volunteers.
In less than 30 minutes the students harvested an astonishing 600 pounds of produce for donation. As they harvested, students learned kinesthetically about plant life cycles, nutrition, and agriculture, plus got an opportunity to connect with the ecology of their own backyard (which in Los Olivos includes a lot of farmland).
Sue smiled as she saw the students playing and working, explaining “for some students it is the first time they have ever pulled a carrot out of the ground. And, even for some, the first time they have eaten a carrot…especially right after it was harvested.” The students smiled as well, especially while they walked out of the fields, gnawing on carrots.
But Sue also needed a farmer willing to donate hard-earned vegetables and let kids run amuck on the farm. Helmut the Farmer said he was happy to do so. He seemed genuinely content to provide this learning experience to the children, as well as donate vegetables to people in need. He has beautiful produce available for sale in his roadside farm stand, but like many farmers, he also has a lot of vegetables available for gleaning.
Gleaning is the act of collecting crops from a farmer’s field once a farmer is no longer harvesting from that field. For varying reasons, farmers often have a surplus of fruits or vegetables. If it is not picked, it will decompose in the fields and turn back into soil. Or, the produce can be gleaned, boxed, and delivered to organizations that are equipped to wash, process, and serve fresh produce.
That is where Santa Ynez Valley Fruit and Vegetable Rescue enters the picture. Affectionately referred to as Veggie Rescue, this non-profit coordinates with local farmers and volunteers to redistribute surplus produce. Veggie Rescue has a refrigerated truck so they can pick up produce at Farmer’s Markets or glean it from local farmers, and keep the food cold while they deliver the produce to groups like Salvation Army, Casa Esperanza, and the Buellton Senior Center.
Some of this produce will actually make its way back to students in the form of School Lunch at Solvang Elementary School. The Food Service Manager at the Solvang School, Bethany Markee, has received over 12,000 pounds of produce from Veggie Rescue, which has turned into salad bar items, vegetable side dishes, or entrees. Most schools do not have the budget to purchase organic, high quality produce. But whenever Veggie Rescue is able to deliver produce to Solvang School, the students have access to nutritious vegetables.
From every angle, the day was a great success. Thanks to all the participants who collaborated to make it happen.
For more information about scheduling an environmental field trip with Nature Track, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about volunteering with Veggie Rescue, please visit http://www.syvfvr.org/
All photos provided by Sue Eisaguirre
Melissa Fontaine is Food Literacy Consultant for the Orfalea Foundation’s School Food Initiative.