Last fall, a group of 8th grade students from Ocala STEAM Academy visited Veggielution for a farm tour. As I led these students around the farm, I felt the need to engage with them through hands on activities. Instead of standing among the compost piles and answering questions, I wanted to experience building and turning a pile together, pointing out the different phases that compost goes through, talking with the students while getting our hands dirty. When we walked through the flourishing fields, I imagined leading the group down a dense row of tomatoes, harvesting different varieties, and then leading the kids through a taste test of each kind to investigate the different flavors.
Eastside Explorers is an upcoming field trip program, which will provide the experiential learning opportunities for students that have long been envisioned by the Veggielution team. East Side middle school students will have the chance to see their science standards come to life on the farm. I am so excited to witness young people connecting with their food system, and engaging with a farm right in their own neighborhood. Adolescence is a time when we develop our sense of self and sense of place. My hope is that these trips will provide students with a memorable and meaningful experience, enabling each of them to see their ability to influence the future of sustainable urban agriculture in their own communities.
On a recent Tuesday morning, I had the opportunity to spend some time with middle school students from Montessori. This group of students visits Veggielution weekly on a seasonal basis. They were working together to plant two fig trees in the orchard. I asked about their favorite farm activities, as well as projects they felt proud of completing. As we talked, it was clear they were excited and inspired by agriculture. One of the students shared that she was most proud of the portion of the orchard they built together. When the project began, the space was a fallow field with weeds. She recounted the difficult tasks, clearing weeds and digging holes for the new trees. The orchard is now a space for these students to work continually, creating a sense of ownership over the space.
Eastside Explorers will provide the chance for middle school students in the neighborhood to discover and connect to a place close to home. Planting a row of seedlings at a farm will bring up the question: “Where does my food come from?” Tasting a tomato straight from the vine will inspire creativity in the kitchen to make fresh salsas, sauces, and more. Turning a compost pile will shed a new light on science as kids identify bugs, observe healthy soil, and learn about the nutrients that help veggies grow. Veggielution will begin bringing groups of middle school students out to the farm this summer!
-Jen Aguilar, Veggielution Youth Program Manager
Eastside Explorers is generously support by Applied Materials Foundation.