Today’s guest blogger is another of our fantastic California FoodCorps service members, Liz Puris. Liz serves in the North Coast office of Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), where she works hard on making strong local sourcing a reality for many schools throughout Sonoma County.
Liz also supports school gardens in a few Sonoma County schools, and found an amazing (and very cute!) way to foster connections and learning in the garden using the FoodCorps network. Read on to see how it’s paid off!
“Miss Liz, what does this mean?” One of my fourth grade students calls me over and points to the words “dichotomous key.” Another student raises his hand, doubtfully asking, “Can carrots really be white and purple?”
What excites my students almost as much as learning carrots can be purple? Knowing that they have pen pals all the way across the country! Learning from other students their age is one of the many ways my fourth grade students uniquely connect with gardening, healthy food, and their local food system.
By communicating with their pen pals at my FoodCorps colleague’s school in Woodbridge, Connecticut, my students have learned to reflect on what growing seasons, climates, and food systems look like here in California as well as across the country. FoodCorps is a nationwide team of leaders that connects kids to real food and helps them grow up healthy. One of the many benefits of being a service member is the network of connections all around our country. It is a special opportunity for both my students and me to learn about the experiences of others in their school gardens.
Through my partner organization CAFF (Community Alliance with Family Farmers) and the Harvest of the Month (HOTM) program my students are able to understand what grows here in Sonoma County during different months and seasons of the year. Each month they have the opportunity to taste a new, locally sourced item of produce and learn about our featured farmer.
After almost a year of teaching these students, I have noticed that the answers to “Where do you think this produce came from today?” have shifted away from “The grocery store! China!” to “Petaluma! Our garden!” They are no longer stumped by a question such as, “Why would we eat dried fruit this time of year?” They understand the concept of seasonality and that while it may be snowing in Connecticut, we are growing arugula and fava beans in our winter garden in California.
Not only are my students learning these science-based gardening concepts, but through our pen pal program they are reinforcing this information by explaining it to their fellow fourth-graders. Their teachers love this project because it ties into language arts standards and allows students to reflect on what they have learned so far. The students view their pen pals as friends and feel personally invested in making our garden thrive.
Every time I visit with my fourth grade classes they excitedly ask me, “Did our letters from our pen pals get here yet?” With my classes’ urging, next time I visit we will be planting nothing other than purple and white carrots, just like our friends in Connecticut!