Washburn School District hosts tour of school garden and high tunnel to celebrate Local Farm to School Success
Others regional school districts have since joined the Farm to School movement: Ashland, Bayfield, Drummond, and South Shore. Segal, Farm to School Regional Lead for Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, commented later in the day that this region has become a role model for the entire Midwest.
Tom Wiatr, district administrator for the Washburn School District, sprinkled a few verbal seeds on the day, “From the size of this group you can see this is not something that can be done in isolation. It takes partnerships between school districts, the city, UW-Extension, volunteers, residents and experts – state and national– to get behind these types of initiatives.”
One partner, Greta Kochevar, a Family Consumer Science teacher and Green & Health coordinator for the district, spoke to the history of the garden.
“The idea started in ’06 with the Wellness Committee. After a couple of years we needed to expand to make more room for each of the classes,” she said. “Now we have things blocked out by grade. The first grade has the brassica section with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale; kindergarten has cucumbers and squash; fourth grade, the Three Sisters Garden (corn, beans and squash).”
In spring students till the soil, plant seeds, water, weed, and learn about the science of food. Some participate in the garden during summer school, but mostly Liz Downy, garden caretaker from May-September, hauled the wheelbarrow around this summer. Bushels of produce are waiting for the kids to harvest when they return to school next week.
“We have specific benchmarks for Green & Healthy sustainability from 4K-12,” Waitr said. “We believe you can’t just read about it. You have to live it.”
He stressed the school’s commitment to honor the earth, the water and the culture in this area while providing wholesome foods and sustainability learning opportunities for students. Wiatr also announced the school recently applied for a permit from the city to graze goats on a piece of school property adjacent to the garden. Having signed an agreement with the US Fish & Wildlife in September 2015 to make habitat improvements to this meadow, the first job is to remove the invasive species, naturally.
“To be able to have students come back this fall and highlight, ‘You can do this chemical free’ without any runoff to Lake Superior and the watershed region, is critically important for us,” concluded Waitr before herding the crowd down to the high tunnel.
The Washburn School District has fully embraced the Green & Healthy model to “reduce environmental impact and costs, improve health and wellness, and increase environmental and sustainability literacy for all students.” Sticking to these values, an insightful school board realized when ‘06 school gardeners grew up they needed a more challenging Green & Healthy curriculum. Thus was born the high tunnel, aquaponics lab, and the rain, butterfly and pollinator gardens.
Visitors clustered around the high tunnel constructed in 2014. Part of a larger USDA Farm-To-School grant awarded to the Bayfield Regional Food Producers Cooperative (FPC) in 2013, FPC received $76,000 for its project, “Meeting the Challenge of Winter: Using High Tunnels to Expand Farm-to-School in Northern Wisconsin.” As a result Todd Rothe from River Road Farm coordinated the construction of five high tunnels greenhouses at the South Shore, Drummond, Washburn, Bayfield and Ashland School Districts.
Students manage the tunnels during the school year, even growing spinach in winter. During summer they can opt for the Agripreneur Program.
“The Washburn agripreneur managers are selling produce from the high tunnels during the summer at Farmer’s Market. They’ve done just under $1,000 in sales, which will be used to fund next year’s agripreneurs,” Fischbach said.
Besides the science involved in monitoring plants and controlling conditions inside the tunnel, students learn valuable economic lessons growing, harvesting and selling their own produce.
Other valuable lessons are learned in this quadrant of unique classrooms as well. Vicki Aldritt, chair educator for the school’s Ecology Club, gave an update on the butterfly garden and monarch butterfly tagging project. Currently she has 100 monarch butterfly larva and chrysalis at her house, which she’ll move to an outdoor tent near the school. After hatching she and her student team will “test them, tag them and send them on their way to Mexico.”
After a few words about the aquaponics lab, where students among other things grow lettuce on water, the crowd migrated to the high school cafeteria where Noreen Ovadia Wills, owner of Coco’s Bakery, introduced the luncheon menu: garnished boiled potatoes, tossed bean and tomato salads laced with local cheeses, and bread.
“Everything that you’re eating today is locally made including the whole wheat flour in the baguettes, grown and ground five miles away by Tom Cogger,” said Wills, who added many of the vegetables were grown in the school garden and high tunnel.
In closing, the distinguished guests added a few words.
“You can read all the grant reports and see all the pictures, but to come up here really makes a huge difference,” Segal said. “What I’m seeing in this community that’s really great is the best practice of working together. There are so many people at all different levels – students and administrators. That’s’ what it takes to grow these Farm to School programs.”
Baldwin, D-Madison, who co-sponsored the Farm to School Act of 2015, said, “I’m happy to tell you it’s a bipartisan legislation. But I also need to tell you that there are folks who don’t just want to pass a freestanding bill. They want to make this part of a larger discussion on reauthorizing the child nutrition program.”
She explained the House and the Senate have produced very different bills.
“The House, I’m sorry to tell you, has put new burdensome restrictions that would make it harder to access these school based nutrition programs,” she said.
Nothing will happen until after the November election, she said. Until then she’s committed to eliminating burdensome obstacles for people to be able to access nutritious food in school.
Plates clean, minds full of stories to take back to D.C. and Chicago, the guests darted off to their next important meeting.
In The News
News articles featuring local food projects that are occurring in the Chequamegon Bay area