It’s a bright, sunny day as a bunch of first-grade students pop out of the door at Centre Elementary School, bubbling with enthusiastic anticipation. It is Farm to School week in Kansas, and they are out to visit the school garden.
Their first stop is a raised bed of lush, green, fall-planted vegetables. Garden supervisor Debra Casey touches a pea plant and asks, “What is this?”
“It’s a bean,” one student says. “It’s a pea,” another student correctly identifies it.
As they continue to study the plants, Casey points out several potato and lettuce plants. Then she leads students to a compost pile, where each one clutches a bunch of mulch and takes it back to the garden.
“Don’t put it on the plants,” Casey advises. “Put it on the soil around the plants.”
They then take a tour of the rest of the garden, and Casey teaches them about the various grass plants, perennial flowers, and bushes. A few students find a bare spot and plant grass seeds.
Students gather silently around a flowering bush to study the flying insects that scuttle from bloom to bloom.
Then it’s time to return to their classroom.
Centre was one of eight schools in the state that received a $12,500 pilot grant in April 2014 from Kansas Department of Agriculture to establish a Farm to School program.
With money from the grant, high school students planted an orchard. The school garden, which was begun in 2009, was expanded. It includes a variety of landscape plants including native grasses, wooded plants, volunteer trees, a wetland area, and berry bushes. A fountain will be in operation next spring.
The advanced horticulture class will complete the final stage of the grant, the installation of a small aquaponic system in the greenhouse. It will combine fish farming with hydroponics.
The system will include a 250-gallon fish tank stocked with 125 tilapia, alongside a tray of green peppers, tomatoes, and lettuce planted among rocks. The water in the tank will be fertilized by the fish and pumped free flowing across the rocks to feed the plants.
Ag adviser Laura Klenda said the plan is to harvest the fish and vegetables and use them in the school lunchroom. The system will be in place by the end of the year.