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Tasting tomatoes and mulling about mint at Great Kids Farm

Young food scientists practice “Mindful Botany” at annual Garden Summit

“This is the most peaceful place I've ever been!"

Commodore John Rodgers Elementary/Middle School third grader Naomi Ramirez Ortiz had a busy day ahead of her, but first she wanted to take in the natural beauty of Great Kids Farm’s 33 acres. “The farm made me feel peaceful and happy in my heart.” 

In May, Ramirez Ortiz was one of 87 3rd-5th grade students from nine City Schools elementary schools who participated in the Farm’s annual Garden Summit — a day of hands-on activities exploring cultivation, food systems, botany and environmental stewardship.

With forests, fields, a stream, greenhouses and a barn full of animals, district-owned Great Kids Farm allows students to enjoy the outdoors while connecting farm and plate. A favorite field trip destination, the Farm also hosts Summits throughout the school year, when students from many schools come together for a day of collaborative learning with local experts. 

“We know that experiences with nature and with growing food can be transformative for students, helping them develop lifelong healthy eating habits,” says Anne Rosenthal, City Schools Farm to School Specialist. “In designing the Summit, we made sure to connect activities to the elementary school science curriculum and incorporate social emotional learning.”

At the Summit, the participants created their own plant-based paints with local textile artist Kenya Miles of Blue Light Junction, learned about the pollinating power of flowers and grains, built worm-filled vermicompost bins and crafted DIY container gardens from recycled materials. 

Among the scholars’ favorite activities of the day was “Plants & Peace: Mindful Botany,” where they tasted plants and herbs as a mindfulness activity to bolster critical thinking skills. Instructor Larree Strickland, from local youth development nonprofit The Be. Org, guided students through a meticulous examination of food’s smell, taste and texture. She encouraged them to draw conclusions about nutritional content and each plant's role in recipes. 

“The key to the activity is to truly focus on the foods we’re eating,” said Strickland. “You calm yourself, close your eyes and take the time to process the information that your senses are giving you. Students are familiar with the taste of mint, but mindfully tasting a mint leaf is a different experience. Comparing that “real” mint to the processed versions we taste every day is an exercise in critical thinking and requires mindfulness and concentration.”

But it was the fresh, flavor-packed tomato, right off the vine that caught the attention of Commodore John Rodgers fourth-grader Jayden Campos. “Eating this tomato makes me want to dice up some rosemary and make a pasta sauce,” said Campos. “I think it would be really fresh.”

Literacy Teacher Robin Palomares, who leads Commodore John Rodgers’ gardening activities, says Great Kids Farm and the Summit align perfectly with classroom topics. “Our students have studied the lifecycle of a plant, life on a farm and food chemistry, so the Summit builds on their knowledge,” said Palomares. 

“We couldn’t have these great experiences during distance learning, so it was so important to get the students out to the Farm this year. Some of our third graders had never seen a chicken in real life before. They were infatuated with the blue waddle on the turkey. They named him ‘Big Blue.’” 

Click here for more info about City Schools’ free Farm to School programs and resources.


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