Elementary school supporting healthy nutrition and local farms

Winters Farm to School is a local nonprofits who help to support farm-to-school efforts, maintain school gardens and host the Kids Farmers Market. Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

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Students at Waggoner Elementary School are getting their hands dirty helping out in the school garden, and then reaping multiple benefits from the harvest to experiencing the culture of the farm to fork movement.

“We concentrate on getting students to put fruits & vegetables on their plates – and then eat it,” said Cathy Olsen, Director of Food Service at Winters Joint Unified School District. “I love helping the kids harvest, carry to the cafeteria and serve for lunch. They are so proud and love eating what they grow.”

The elementary school gardens (located at both Waggoner and Shirley Rominger Intermediate School) are open to all teachers and students at those sites. Winters Farm to School board members and volunteers work in the gardens regularly with students.

In February 2020, Winters Farm to School board members and Olsen took Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry on a tour of the Waggoner garden to show her the updates since her last visit. Upon entering the garden Aguiar-Curry noted the school garden gets better every year.

Olsen said Aguiar-Curry has been working on Farm to School legislation and grants to help other Districts start programs similar to the one running in Winters.

“Farm Direct Buying is our strength, Winters is a leader in purchasing direct from farms and purchasing local produce. This supports our kids and communities,” Olsen said.

Gloria Lopez, a Winters Farm to School board member, said one of their goals for the area is to finish laying the decomposed granite and put in tables to create an outdoor classroom setting. Lopez said some teachers bring their students out to the garden for art and other outside activities, in addition to opportunities to work in the garden beds.

A chalkboard has been mounted on one of the garden sheds with plans to communicate with students and staff of what can currently be harvested and what garden tasks need to be completed.

“This garden is for everybody. Every kid can have access,” Lopez said.

Olsen shared how she had taught students who were reluctant to try greens to squeeze lemon on it, and how over the summer students helped harvest a case of cucumbers and then enjoyed them for lunch.

Waggoner also has an orange, lemon and small mandarin tree growing and producing on site. Students are allowed to pick and eat from the trees. Olsen said when students grow it and pick it they are curious to try tasting it, and tell their friends about it.

While Waggoner students are able to enjoy tastes from around campus, the garden and citrus trees do not produce enough to provide food service to the whole school.

The cafeterias are supplied from local farms, and the Winters High School Ag Site. Currently, the Ag Site is able to provide a variety of grapes during their season. According to Olsen, the Ag Site recently planted a large quantity of satsuma trees, and there is a goal for the trees to supply for all student meals at Winters JUSD.

Lopez said it has been nice to be able to include the Winters FFA and Ag Site at the elementary schools to create connections.

The day of the tour the Waggoner cafeteria served watermelon radishes, orange and lemon wedges and salad greens. Students are encouraged to take a fruit or vegetable from the produce bar. Olsen said while there is food waste, students are discovering and trying new foods every day.

“If they don’t put it on their plate, they’re never going to eat it,” Olsen said.

Winters Farm to school is currently working to make local connections with community members to identify volunteers to help work in the gardens. Olsen and Farm to School board members are also working on trying to figure out where to relocate the Rominger garden with the recent approval from the Winters JUSD school board to construct a new three-classroom building on the current garden area.

Olsen said individuals or organizations who want to help with the upcoming Rominger garden move project, volunteer in or donate to the elementary school gardens can contact her at colsen@wintersjusd.org.

Garden donations can also be sent directly to Winters Farm to School, PO Box 611, Winters, CA 95694.

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