Birch Lane Elementary launched a successful Harvest Project for the 2013 winter growing season and they continue to provide fresh produce for their site. In partnership with Yolo Farm to Fork and Davis Farm to School, this innovative program promotes nutrition, farm education and program sustainability.
Birch Lane has a rich history of gardening and visiting farm animals going back 15 years. The site has an expansive gardening space totaling over 2300 square feet, a small orchard consisting of 10 fruit trees, and a coop for six chickens. Traditionally, plots were maintained by individual classrooms and parent volunteers and produce was utilized on a classroom by classroom basis. For the Harvest Project the garden program took steps to move towards a more “global”system of whole school gardening by targeting four of the 42 campus plots to serve as pilot plots for a community harvest.
The results were impressive. Garden Coordinator Hope Sippola and parent volunteers helped students propagate from seed, plant and harvest. Over 3 harvest days, parents and over 100 students harvested 31.5 pounds of organic lettuce, 18.5 pounds of chard, 15 pounds of blood oranges, and 3 pounds of kale that were served to Birch Lane students during school lunch as part of their salad bar. Students were not only able to harvest but could field wash, weigh and record totals on an invoice giving them a true “urban” farm to table connection. All of the produce was purchased by Student Nutrition Services, sending funds back to the Birch Lane Garden to help create a sustainable program model.
In 2014 with the help of Garry Pearson at the UC Davis plant sciences department, 200 lettuce, 200 basil, and 100 chard starts were planted for a late spring harvest and the summer crop included San Marzano tomatoes, sweet Italian basil, onions and carrots.
While sustainability is key to the Birch Lane Harvest Project, the program has also emphasized the nutrition and farm to table connection. Parents volunteer at school lunch time to provide “taste tests” of school-grown produce to students. Students were excited to try a rainbow of Birch Lane-grown lettuce, kale and chard as well as several “house made” entrees created by Student Nutrition Services Director Dominic Machi.
Contact the Birch Lane garden coordinator to learn more about the Birch Lane Harvest program and discover how you can help.