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Thriving Farm-to-Table Program at Friends' Central's Lower School
Posted 05/17/2017 03:28PM

Now more than ever, parents are conscious of words like “organic,” “healthy,” “sustainable,” or “gluten-free” when it comes to their child’s lunches. It can be difficult, not to mention costly, to provide healthy, farm-fresh, and also tasty lunches for children on a daily basis. At Friends’ Central School, the guesswork has been taken out of school lunches, with an exciting new school lunch program that begins in the Lower School organic garden.

From the youngest 3-year-old Nursery student to the leaders in grade 5, students in every grade are taught the significance of healthy eating, and that lesson begins in the Lower School garden. Now in its fourth year, the garden is an integral part of the Lower School academic program, bringing the learning experience to life. The Lower School garden serves as a vegetable and fruit garden, growing a large number of cafeteria menu items right on campus, as well as a butterfly garden, a pumpkin patch, and much more. Students spend time digging in the dirt, planting seeds, and harvesting healthful fruits and vegetables. They also learn about composting, giving them a chance to see the entire cycle from food scraps and other organic wastes to compost.

New this year is an unprecedented facility dedicated to the creativity and innovation of our youngest learners. The Ulmer Family Light Lab opened in October and the Natural Science Studio, one of four distinct makerspace studios in the Light Lab, has added depth to the students’ knowledge of how the farm-to-table program really functions at Friends’ Central’s Lower School. Just this week, fifth graders took pH, measuring plant growth and adding water with nutrients to the aeroponic towers in the Solarium. They then harvested kale, arugula, and leaf lettuce from the aeroponic towers to enjoy at lunch.

From composting to planting seeds to the cafeteria, the cycle comes to a close with students see the “fruits” of their labor on the cafeteria menu at lunch. Students are not just learning about making an impact; they’re actually living it and able to see and enjoy it. Children are growing and harvesting items like lettuce, from the garden and from the aeroponic towers in the Light Lab; a variety of tomatoes, which are used for pastas, sauces, salads, and homemade pizza; carrots, onions, garlic, and over 200 potatoes, planted by first graders; peas, which are picked and eaten right off the vine in class; berries, which will be used for jam in the fall; and herbs, including rosemary, basil, parsley, chive, fennel, and oregano, just to name a few.

Also new this year is the exciting school lunch program “Lettuce Feed You.” Inspiring children to work toward a healthier and more sustainable world, Lettuce Feed You delivers delicious, fresh-from-scratch, sustainable, and whenever possible, local and organic foods prepared in-house by expert Chef Wadiya Gooden. The lunch table at Friends’ Central’s Lower School is supplied overwhelmingly by local farms, including the expansive organic garden at FCS. From food that connects to the curriculum (like Indian food in the first grade’s study of India) to participating in food preparation in age-appropriate ways, Lower School students are bringing their knowledge of food to live in myriad ways.

Friends' Central's farm-to-table program was profiled in the April issue of GRID Magazine, which celebrates and works “toward a sustainable Philadelphia.” To read their take on this tremendous part of the Lower School curriculum, click here.

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