• Melanie Smith-Bell

I was in awe of Harvest of the Month

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

I had the privilege of attending Hillcrest Elementary School's Harvest of the Month event, and I found it truly amazing. The Frederick Farm to School program finds farmers and coordinates purchase of their fresh local produce for schools to use in these events where students learn about the food, sample it, and share their opinions afterward. After having witnessed what happens for the students, I wanted to share some of the many benefits I believe come out of programs like these.

Experiential learning opportunities are just the best. There is no substitute for engaging kids on this level because it gets them excited about learning. There Is so much to learn from the humble broccoli floret. Where that broccoli came from is a question with a pretty big answer. It came from Thurmont. From farmer Rick Hood's farm called Summer Creek Farm. So on the most straightforward level they're learning local geography. They're also learning about the biosphere, the soil, its nutrients, and the ecosystem of the farm. There are pests that also want to eat the broccoli. There are other pests that will eat those pests, and Farmer Rick can encourage that to his advantage. The farmer has to know about every single thing on his farm. The bugs, and the soil, and how the water runs, in order to successfully grow and sell his food. Broccoli comes from a lot of hard work and knowledge. They're learning a bit about the economy, and they are connecting with their community as they see how this happens right here in Frederick County. Plus, they are being taught all of this by people who have come into their school from the community.

The people imparting their knowledge also expose the students to a range of different professions that make our community successful. They begin learning about nutrition and the role of the FCPS dietitian Monica Skidmore. They may have not met her before, but she has had a role in every meal they eat at school--and they gave her thunderous applause! Haylee Staruk and Kelly Nichols from the University of Maryland's Ag Extension taught them about the work that takes place on the farm, showed them beautiful slides of the farm experience at Summer Creek, and explained the life cycle and the parts of the plant that they would get to eat. These young third graders have the opportunity to gain comfort with people working in higher education. Making that more familiar and accessible is always a good thing. Chef Sean Thomson demonstrated how to prepare his original recipe. He talked about the ingredients and the tools used, and had student helpers follow his lead to prepare a raw broccoli salad. By taking a food they see often on a school lunch and introducing it in a new way, they aren't just learning about a chef's work, but also something about creativity and versatility.

The benefits of these programs seem immeasurable. It was truly a joy to watch the students' enthusiasm for it all, and a pleasure to meet the people making it all happen.

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