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Taking the classroom to the farm

Lincoln Park Middle School seventh grader Alezea Homberg pushes a wheelbarrow full of squash harvested by her fellow students while Shewaye Jimenez prepares to add more to the pile. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 4
This pile of squash grew as seventh graders from Lincoln Park Middle School harvested ripe squash throughout the day. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 4
Seventh grader Zared Smith piles old compost into the fresh pile his peers have created while on a field trip to the Sustainable Agriculture Program farm at the University of Minnesota Duluth. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)3 / 4
Once all the components have been added, seventh graders use shovels to mix a fresh batch of compost to mix air into the pile. "If you come back tomorrow, you'll see steam coming off it," said instructor Susan Darley-Hill. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)4 / 4

Do you know how your food is grown?

That's the question which prompted a field trip for approximately 200 seventh graders from Lincoln Park Middle School. Peter Mostrom took his life science classes up to the University of Minnesota Duluth Sustainable Agriculture Farm on Riley Road to learn about local food and the components of farming.

"In today's society, there's often a disconnect for children about where our food comes from. Being on UMD's farm is a great way to connect with how food is grown," said Renee Willemsen, education coordinator for Healthy Northland Farm to School. "Research shows that students who have a better understanding of how food grows are making better eating and lifestyle choices."

The field trip, led by Renee Willemsen and local Duluth farmers, was funded through support from Whole Foods and a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School grant.

"We cover everything from growing food to transporting food and the steps involved in the farming processes. We want them to think about where their food comes from and how that relates to health, the environment and the economy," Willemsen said.

The students rotated through six interactive hands-on stations, where adult leaders taught them about soil health, land cultivation, composting, planting, harvesting, pollination and local food.

"I liked picking squash the best. I've never picked one before," said Sheway Jimenez, a seventh-grader on the field trip.

At the harvest station, students learned how to identify ripe squash and harvested a few each. The squash will be used in the UMD dining services. The Sustainable Agriculture Project is a 15-acre land lab that produces 50,000 pounds of food for UMD's dining services.

"The farm is where education and operations come together, creating a sustainable evolution of ideas and action," said Randel Hanson, coordinator of the Sustainable Agriculture Project.

At the compost station students learned what items can be used to create compost, how the process enriches the soil by providing nutrients and moisture and how long it takes for items to decompose. The hands-on portion, mixing up a fresh pile of compost, garnered many cries of "Eww!" and "It stinks!" from students. But none found the process too gross. Christian Ray said it was his "favorite part so far" that day.

"It's pretty cool how it works," Ray said.

Ray was surprised at how much work farming takes as well.

"Even though farming is something that sounds easy, it's not so simple. There's a lot more to it than I thought," Ray said.

The week before the classroom visit, Renee Willemsen and Northland Farm to School visited this seventh-grade classroom to teach students about local sustainable farming versus traditional commercial farming. During her session, Willemsen gave the students the opportunity to sample foods grown at the SAP farm.

"They tried three different varieties of carrots. For some it was an eye opener to realize that there are three varieties of carrot. They tried a purple dragon, a white satin, and an orange danver," Willemsen said.

The students can take the knowledge gained at the farm trip and apply it to their own garden back at Lincoln Park Middle School.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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