Sustainable farming is quickly becoming a practice that people are talking about. And considering our dry climate here in Colorado, the conversations about sustainability are also relevant to our livelihood and well-being. At Cherrelyn Elementary, we took that conversation to the next level by providing students with a hands-on, months-long project where students explored truly sustainable practices through a real “farm-to-table” experience!
Beginning back in October, students in all of our elementary K-6 STEAM labs began a unit focused on Sustainable Agriculture and Green Energy (SAGE- click here to learn more about STEAM practices in Englewood Schools). And in true STEAM fashion, we turned that unit into an authentic and hands-on learning experience. In partnership with our Nutrition Services team, we received a grant to provide a Fork Farms Flex Farm to each STEAM lab. Students began the process of learning about plant life cycles and sustainability, discovering where our food comes from, and discussing how we can improve food growth and distribution practices to better serve ourselves and our local communities in Colorado. From there, students began to select crops and plant them in the brand-new hydroponic grow towers. As the plants grew, students were responsible for keeping track of plant growth, pH levels, and nutrient levels. Students were also responsible for ensuring the plants had the right balance of nutrients and water to ensure maximum growth!
But our students were not simply growing these plants for fun or for the rich learning experience involved throughout the entire process (though those both definitely happened!). Students were growing these vegetables for a very good and very delicious reason… to actually enjoy inside our own cafeterias! Students were fully engaged in the complete “farm-to-table” experience, where students selected, planted, grew, harvested, prepared, and ate the leafy greens they grew inside the walls of their own schools. Cherrelyn’s Harvest Day was a brilliant culminating event that brought the whole experience together in collaboration from members of our Nutrition Services team, Fork Farms, and high school students from our Culinary Arts program!
During Cherrelyn’s Harvest Day on December 12th, 5th grade students had the chance to experience four different rotations. The first rotation was led by members of our Nutrition Services team, where students learned about the benefits of eating healthy vegetables and engaged in meaningful conversations with professionals. They discovered how leafy greens provide us with plenty of nourishment and vitamins to help us lead healthy lives.
At the next rotation, the excitement really took off as students put on gloves and harvested lettuce right from the Flex Farm hydroponic unit! With the help of our Nutrition Services team, students pulled plants out of the unit, removed the roots, and took the leafy lettuce into the Cherrelyn kitchen, where it was thoroughly washed and prepared for consumption. Students also learned about the importance of safe food handling procedures, and followed those accordingly to ensure all could enjoy the delicious lettuce safely!
After the harvest, students rotated to the tastiest part of the day… the lettuce taste test! With the support of their teacher, Chef Jacob Cain, future chefs/high school students from our Culinary Arts ProStart program at EHS worked with the 5th graders to prepare a delicious vinaigrette dressing. Students took freshly prepared lettuce from the tower, dipped it in the dressing, and shared their thoughts on the taste and experience with each other. A true community-building experience shared over a delicious snack! At the last rotation, students prepared the next round of leafy green vegetables, selecting seeds and placing them into the pods for future growth.
When asked about the day, it is clear that students loved all parts of the experience, from the planting, to the harvesting, and certainly the tasting! Check out the quotes below from some of our Cherrelyn 5th grade students:
“Harvest Day was exciting! The concept of what it was was really cool, learning about the life cycle and getting to plant the seeds and then watching them grow into big plants. It was so cool pulling out the plant (from the tower) because you get to see how this thing started as a seed and is now a huge plant with all these roots!” - Eloise
“I really enjoyed learning about how the plants have vitamins, and I liked washing the plants to get them ready to eat.” - Donny
“This was really fun to do. Getting to experience it from beginning to end was fun. I really enjoyed building the tower because I’ve never really done that before. I also liked how we were responsible for all of it.” - Eli
“I really liked it! I liked planting future plants too. We planted iceberg lettuce. My favorite part was tasting the lettuce with the dressing… it tasted like Chick-Fil-A sauce!” -Jaylah
Bishop, Charles Hay, and Clayton will all be experiencing their Harvest Days very soon. We are so proud of our Cherrelyn students for taking on this amazing project from beginning to end, and we can’t wait to hear what students think from our other schools!
A very special thank you to:
- Nicole Withee, Director of Nutrition Services, and her team of Specialists
- Members of the Fork Farms team
- Kirk Benson, Cherrelyn STEAM Teacher
- Chris Sorley, Head Custodian at Cherrelyn
- Jacob Cain, Culinary Arts ProStart Teacher at Englewood High School
None of this would have been possible without their commitment, dedication, and collaboration!
This experience is another example of how we are taking STEAM education to the next level in Englewood Schools. We look forward to future harvests led by our brilliant students and staff!
If you would like to learn more about this project, or if you are interested in learning more about Englewood Schools’ approach to STEAM education, please contact Paul Whitaker, Instructional Technology and PK-8 STEAM Coordinator.