Our Seed to Table Program: Green and Growing Schoolyard and Food Education

Garden Tour from Baltimore Montessori Charter on Vimeo.

Our Seed to Table Program: Green and Growing Schoolyard and Food Education

When we opened Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School in August 2008, our schoolyard was pockmarked blacktop. As a result of the good work of many hands, the site has been transformed from environmental blight to a model of urban greening where a bioswale catches rainwater and offers shelter to our chickens, fruit trees and berry bushes create an edible perimeter, healthy soil and compost covers approximately one- fifth of the schoolyard, providing a fertile home for our vegetable gardens, an open field allows young legs to stretch and run, a play structure provides climbing, swinging and hanging opportunities, and native trees and pollinating flowers and bushes provide ecological support and nourishment to our children, our good bugs, our honeybees, and our garden plants.

Baltimore Montessori counts as our core mission the cultivation of joyfully engaged learners.  This mission is pursued throughout our school and powerfully achieved in our Seed to Table Program. Through the various components of this program, our students are learning -- with their minds and senses -- how to grow and prepare food that nurtures them and is sustainable for the earth.  Through this program our school community is reclaiming a core aspect of human culture: to know what real food is, how to cook it, and how to eat with others during a mealtime that is paced for conversation, pleasure and well-being. We are also teaching cornerstones of good nutrition, food safety, and citizenship as we connect our eating to local farms and the awareness of being part of a local economy.

The Seed part of the program begins in our schoolyard, which was pot-marked blacktop until 2009. We removed the asphalt and put in gardens, turf and a bioswale. These gardens vividly illustrate the Seed to Table cycle with its core components of soil-building and water use, seed planting, pollination, harvesting, preparing, and eating. In the schoolyard, our students now grow herbs and vegetables, tend fruit trees and bushes, and assist with the keeping of chickens and the collection of their eggs. They also assist in the care of our apiary and the harvesting of honey.  Our outdoor space also serves as a vital outdoor classroom that teachers use to enrich classroom lessons in the natural sciences.  All of our third through sixth graders now also receive direct garden education through our Wednesdays in the Garden program. The seed to table cycle also includes composting and vermicomposting of our schools food (and paper) waste.

The Table side of the equation is expressed in three core programs.  In our adult-supervised educational kitchen, our youth prepare healthy snacks and dishes (from soups to stews, salads and sides) using primarily local and seasonal produce, with some input from the school’s vegetable and herb gardens. The students then share these dishes, along with related nutrition and other information about the food, with their fellow classmates and school staff. All of our second-graders receive over thirty hours of intensive and experiential food and garden education through the Food for Life program. Here they learn about growing food, the health benefits of plant-based foods and how to cook with them. They also receive education and training in food safety and culinary skills.  Our youngest children (ages 3-6) begin learning to prepare simple, whole foods as snacks such as sliced apples or peeled carrots for themselves and their classmates in their Children’s House classrooms. In addition to these food education programs, we provide all of our students with local, seasonal fruit every day, all year round, available as a morning snack.

We thank the farms and farmers who help to feed us:  Reid’s Orchards (apples, pears, peaches, plums, grapes, strawberries), One Straw Farm (leafy greens, lettuces, chard, peppers, radishes, broccoli, turnips), Pine Grove Farm (pumpkins, sweet potatoes and watermelon), McCarthy Farm (beans), Fountain Farms (strawberries, rhubarb), Sheep’s Hill (eggs), Cottingham Farm (tomatoes, salad greens), Sunnyside Farm (eggs), Real Food Farm, Tuscarora Organic Growers Coop, Simmer Rock Farm (celery, fennel, carrots...)