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U-46 Classrooms Visit Food & Nutrition Services Garden

Oct. 2, 2019

Two groups of U-46 high school students turned the District’s new vegetable garden into their classrooms this week, learning about the intricacies of growing vegetables. 

The nearly 1 acre plot is located on the grounds of the District’s Food & Nutrition Services facility on Bowes Road in Elgin. Department staff planted it in late June and have harvested cucumbers, peppers, basil, zucchini, carrots, tomatoes and more with the help of volunteers.

The purpose of the garden is to bring attention to fresh, sustainable local produce that is ecologically responsible while providing students with access to a variety of produce that is flavorful, colorful, and nutrient-dense, said  Food Safety Coordinator Steve Keaty. Most of this year’s produce found its way to school “garden bars.” students picking vegetables

The students who visited this week were from the DREAM Academy and Larkin High School, and the vision calls for the garden to host a number of schools for field trips during its second growing season.

Keaty led students on a tour of the department’s facility. In addition to the garden, students saw offices, the walk-in freezers, the commissary and production area where breakfasts and lunches for elementary schools are assembled daily. 

Keaty also shared a hand washing experiment, to see how well students keep their hands clean. He gave students a lotion-type substance to rub into their hands, had them wash, and then proceeded to shine a blacklight over them. The blacklight exposed dirty spots not visible in regular lighting. He made sure the students understood the safety and importance of being sanitary. 

During lunch, students had the opportunity to eat the green peppers and cucumbers they harvested. They had the option to pair it with a spicy habanero sauce, made fresh with vegetables and spices from the garden. 

student planting cucumber

DREAM Academy students who attended the field trip this week were part of an environmental science class. Their teacher, Alicia Choi, said the field trip supports the school’s curriculum, including current lessons on the water cycle and future lessons on pollution and the dangers of farm runoff, including food recalls.

Students were engaged throughout the field trip. “This is so much fun,” said one student, while another suggested the garden should be open to the community to purchase vegetables at a low price.

DREAM Academy students also assisted the Food and Nutrition Services team plant cucumbers that will someday be part of lunch offerings in U-46 schools, and they planted tomato seeds in a small pot to take back to their classrooms for growing. 

The Larkin High School class, all students with special needs, participated in a fun and informative nutrition activity about tomatoes, which the garden produced in abundance this season. Students inspected, felt, and tasted a variety of tomatoes. 

Each student left with a tie dye “Whole U” U-46 drawstring bag, a “Whole U” lens and monitor cleaner, as well as a flyer about Illinois harvesting.