EG Unified gets state grant for ag, culinary programs | Lifestyle
Educators are considering a project that could invite Florin High School students to try out salad ingredients that were grown and prepared by their classmates.
Under this idea, Florin High’s agriculture technology students could grow lettuce or microgreens via indoor, hydroponic gardens, and then package their crops for their school’s culinary arts students to utilize at their school’s kitchen classroom.
That’s a potential project among many that could be funded by a new $644,800 grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture that was awarded to the Elk Grove Unified School District. Other ideas include offering produce grown by local farms, agriculture students teaching their classmates about sustainable farming and ranching practices, and having culinary students design recipes for nutritious dishes.
The district will first experiment with this “incubator grant” at Florin High before considering its expansion to other schools.
“The importance of this grant for agriculture students is that it is a connection to food production all the way to the consumers right here on our campus,” Florin High agriculture technology teacher Karlin Ruth told the Citizen last week.
Michelle Drake, Elk Grove Unified’s director of food and nutrition services, introduced this grant during her department’s progress report at the Elk Grove school board’s Jan. 10 meeting. She mentioned that her staff grew lettuce via a hydroponic tower that was installed at their food processing center on Gerber Road.
“I have a black thumb, I’m not a grower of any kind, and what we could do with that hydroponic machine was quite impressive,” Drake said about the gardening experiment. “This is obviously pie in the sky, but I would like to figure out how we can do it on a larger scale and incorporate more (agriculture) teams in our schools to serve their own student bodies – that’s what we’ll test with Florin to see what that takes.”
The new grant-funded program is formally called the Elk Grove Unified Farm-to-School Expansion Utilizing Local Farms and Career Technology Education Program. Drake told the Citizen that the program is still in its early planning stages and a project timeline has not been established yet.
She said that this grant will first fund projects at Florin High since that south Sacramento school serves a “higher need community.” In Florin High’s School Accountability Report for the 2021-22 school year, 1,620 of the school’s 1,727 students, or 93%, came from low-income families.
Ruth noted that the Florin High campus may be in an urban area, but many of its students are still involved in agriculture production with their families. During the summers, some of these students travel to other parts of California or to Mexico to help harvest crops or care for livestock, she mentioned.
“They are very connected to agriculture, despite we’re in the middle of the city,” Ruth said.
Her school does not have hydroponic equipment yet, but her honors students are already preparing for when they can plant seeds after receiving their growing tower.
“Our students will have an opportunity to raise a microgreen in a place where we don’t have a field,” the teacher said. “There are no agriculture grounds here, but we can grow the crops in a sustainable way in a hydroponic tower…We’re really excited to see what we’re able to grow successfully, and the different varieties of greens and herbs.”
At Florin High’s culinary program, teacher Scot Rice said that the new grant can support many opportunities at his school’s commercial kitchen space that opened last year. He said that students could grow and cook school-grown herbs instead of having their school purchase them. The teacher said that practice could entice picky diners to eat more vegetables at school.
“(Students) had a part in creating it and so they are much more open to eating it or they’re excited to try it,” Rice said.
During her interview, Drake said that after educators learn how to use the state grant at Florin High School then her staff will see how they can replicate the work at other high schools. She mentioned they will also continue to partner with local, “climate-friendly” agricultural operations. An example could be a cattle ranch that uses “regenerative” practices that involves rotating cattle on a ranch to let grass regrow before the livestock graze on it. Drake said that students could visit this ranch and then share their new knowledge with classmates at school.
“It will be peer-to-peer versus me trying to share with the students and they go, ‘Yeah, whatever,’” she said. “But when it’s from a peer saying, ‘This is what it is and what it’s about,’ maybe they’ll get a buy-in from their students.”