VANCOUVER, Wash. – This month, hundreds of fourth-grade students from around Clark County will participate in the Farm to Fork program, with field trips to Heritage Farm to plant potatoes and learn about where food comes from.
Later this fall, those same students (now fifth graders) will return to the farm to harvest their crop. By planting in the spring and returning in the fall, students learn about the seasons and cycles of farming, and food production.
Heritage Farm encompasses 79 acres in northeast Vancouver, Wash., it is located on NE 78th Street just west of NE 25th Avenue.
Discovering where food comes from
“Coming to the farm twice allows them to see the results from something they started,” said Sandy Brown, nutrition faculty with Washington State University Extension. “It’s so vital for kids to connect to their food, to see where it comes from and how it grows. We’ve heard kids say they didn’t know cucumbers grow on a bush or vine, or that carrots grow in the ground.”
The field trips are part of a program called Farm to Fork, funded in part by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School grant. The project is a partnership with Clark County Public Health and the SNAP-Ed nutrition education program.
Brown said she had the idea for Farm to Fork several years ago when her WSU Extension office moved to the farm, providing new opportunities to teach area youth.
“We talked to several school principals who were very excited about the idea,” said Brown, who has worked for WSU for more than 37 years. “They like the idea of repeat trips, as that reinforces the information the students receive about eating local and making healthy food choices through classes we offer in the school.”
1,000 students anticipated
The program grew from just a few classes four years ago to around 800 students last year. Brown anticipates hosting over 1,000 this season.
In addition to planting and harvesting their own crops, the students learn about other parts of farming on their trip. Brown said her team sets up stations for the students to rotate through. These stations allow them to interact with chickens, sort through compost, taste test different veggies or fruits, or explore the farm via a scavenger hunt.
One of the regular tasting stations is having students compare grocery store carrots and fresh carrots to taste the difference for themselves.
“The store-bought carrots can be hard and tasteless, and fresh carrots are so sweet they seem almost like a different food,” Brown said. “Having the kids experience that comparison first hand really opens their eyes.”
The various livestock around the farm also are a big draw.
“Kids are always interested in animals,” she said. “So we’ll show them goats or llamas, or we’ll explain why some chickens lay different colored eggs. It’s surprising how many kids think the food just comes from a grocery store, and that’s it.”
Heritage Farm, founded in 1871, is owned by Clark County and is on the National Historic Registry.
“We’re really lucky to have such a wonderful resource right here in an urban area,” Brown said. “When you can educate children and expose them to something completely new, it’s a hugely positive experience.”
This year, the farm will send produce harvested from the children’s garden back to the schools that have food pantries. That way, the families of students who participated can eat it as well, Brown said.
The farm also has summer programs for youth groups interested in field trips, including Boys and Girls clubs, private schools, church groups, Parks and Recreation, and others.
“There’s a lot of activity out here at the farm over the summer,” Brown said. “We want as many youth groups as possible to come and visit.”