A few schools are adopting a more hands-on way of teaching about food, animal care, and science, which is actually an older technique: farm animals.
Most recently, slow roasting pork tenderloin was part of a homework assignment for a Bend, OR, high school culinary class. And the source of their pork? Mountain View High School, less than a mile away, where FFA formerly known as Future Farmers of America students are raising pigs.
These classes are complementary components of an integrated farm to school program at Bend-LaPine School District, where 29 schools serve more than 16,000 students. Bend-LaPine has students raising animals, butchering animals, and feeding a school meal program. Neatly wrapped packages of pork move from classroom to school kitchen, where they are cooked into succulent carnitas for all 29 school cafeterias.
The program breaks the normal bounds of food in school and has created a whole new arena for students to learn. “It’s a full circle agriculture education experience,” says Katrina Wiest, the manager for the Bend farmers’ market and wellness specialist for the school district.
“Agriculture is a big part of my life,” says Wiest, who was raised on a wheat farm and is married to a farmer. “I feel it’s important that kids know where their food comes from.”
For close to ten years, Wiest has been pioneering the farm to school movement in the high desert of central Oregon: sourcing local food for schools and providing agriculture, health, and nutrition education opportunities in the cafeteria, classroom, and community.
I think this is an awesome idea! It’s a great hands-on learning opportunity for kids. A lot of schools have shied away from having animals on or near campus, or having kids even deal with animals, due to safety and health concerns. But how else and where else are kids going to learn about being safe around animals, or safety and caring for the animals themselves, unless they get somewhat structured guidance like this? Most kids don’t have a friendly farmer they can go visit and mess with their livestock on a regular basis.
But more importantly, it is a very hands-on, real-time way of letting kids work on something and seeing the results of their labor, whether it’s a happy pig or a delicious plate of carnitas, while also letting them experience delayed gratification (it takes hard work and a long time to grow a pig). It teaches kids how food is made, which is important when making food decisions. Plus, it can be very therapeutic to pet a pig.
Where I grew up was fairly rural, and yet the 4H/FFA program was still seen as a weird club that involved a lot of horse-showing. I am glad to see it getting integrated more into school programs.