Teacher Becky Pelton works with local farmers, like Chris Thompson, to manage the school's community garden. She says the students and Long Lake gardeners grow a variety of veggies in the schoolyard garden, which has become a learning experience for the school.
This year, Long Lake Central’s garden included tomatoes, peas, beans, zucchini, cucumber, a few varieties of herbs, and sunflowers.
Last year, Pelton spent a lot of time applying for grants. She learned that it helps the process to show what has been done already. Weighing the amount of fresh produce you generate allows you to price how much the vegetables are worth. This year the school grew a total of 30 pounds. Students, through salad bar, a carrot contest, and an art class, consumed ten pounds. Twenty pounds became ripe before the school year began and Pelton harvested that and give to the local food pantry.
Food concerns go beyond the planting and raising of produce, so Pelton places a high priority on teaching student to be thankful for where their food comes from, that they have fresh food, and have people like Chris Thompson who donate produce. Last year he donated cornmeal, which made over 100 corn muffins. This year he donated enough cornmeal and potatoes for all the students and staff to eat.
Pelton believes Long Lake is unique, taking education beyond book-learning. This allows teachers to make school days more interesting. For example, a carrot tasting contest was, “…probably the most rewarding, the greatest learning experience I’ve had since we’ve had the garden,” Pelton said.
The event was held on Food Day, a nationwide nutrition awareness day. The event had three different carrots for the students to taste. Tasters had to evaluate which was the best and which they liked most. One variety was from Pelton’s garden, one from the Long Lake garden, and one was bought at a grocery store in North Creek, and was imported from Canada.
She started with the younger kids, and quickly found it would take a long time to get descriptive words from them. “You never realize how long it would take for the kids to chew the carrots, and you can’t rush a kid while chewing a carrot, or try and get them to describe it.”
The older students were blind-folded so they couldn’t see which carrots were which, and had bad things to say about the carrot that wasn’t local. She said this was because they could really taste the difference. She also asked the students questions about how they like their carrots; and found that raw carrots were preferred to cooked. The event showed that kids could tell the difference between local and non-local vegetables, Pelton said.
After 4 grueling hours, the final results showed that the Long Lake carrot was the most liked. Students praised the local carrot with adjectives like: yummy, tasty, sweet, nutritious, crunchy, really juicy, tangy, easy to chew, good and, scrumptious.
In describing the non-local carrots, they used words like: soapy, sour, dirty, disgusting, dry, bland, bleached, not tasty, not very good, hard to bite into, no flavor, not moist. One student asked, “Is this actually a carrot?”