Olympia High School teacher Jason “Blue” Peetz lets his students do the talking. After a brief introduction, one student after another stood up to talk about the Freedom Farm’s classes, summer job training program, and the impact of this nontraditional learning opportunity.
|Derek Sandison and Trudi Inslee listen to a student at|
the Freedom Farm in Olympia.
This year, 60 school districts, representing 471,208 enrolled students, and 73 farmers participated in the event. At the schools, beyond serving a Washington-grown menu, 50 percent highlighted farmers on their menus and 44 percent bought ingredients directly from a farm.
In addition to Taste Washington Day, WSDA's Farm to School program allows the agency to provide year-round support to farms and schools, ensuring consistent local produce sourcing and agricultural education.
The Washington School Nutrition Association (WSNA) and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) partnered with WSDA to coordinate Taste Washington Day, now in its seventh year.
WSDA Director Derek Sandison and First Lady Trudi Inslee were among those who toured the farm, owned by the Olympia School District.
Freedom Farm is a collaboration between the nonprofit organization Garden-Raised Bounty (GRuB), Olympia High School, and the Olympia School District’s career and technical education department. Their programs are prioritized for low-income and credit deficient students, and seek to alleviate some of the issues that come with having those backgrounds while attending conventional school. During the year, students earn school credit, and in the summer, the farm functions as an opportunity for students to earn money and job experience.
|Produce growing at the Freedom Farm.|
Under student management since 2013, the farm has produced over 37,000 pounds of fresh produce. Much of that produce ends up in the kitchen at Olympia High School, where the group headed next for lunch.
Farm to School
At Olympia High School, meals are prepared in the large, stainless steel kitchen. The appliances included one machine that resembles a large juicer. As the tour group watched, a carrot was placed into the top, and even slices shot out the bottom. The tool, provided by a grant, helps kitchen workers prepare farm-fresh produce and meet the large school district's needs faster. After being cut, the carrots can be quickly bagged and sent out to 19 feeding sites.
|Derek Sandison and Nik Pitharoulis talk in |
the cafeteria at Olympia High School.
“It’s a great source of extra income for me,” Pitharoulis said. The school district also buys his frozen berries in the offseason.
The Freedom Farmers were also recognized.
Paul Flock, supervisor of the school district’s Child Nutrition Services, held an uncommonly large tomato aloft. “When I get this kind of produce,” he said, “I get a lot of ‘O-M-G’s. These kids are students, but they really know what they’re doing.”
|Students with their lunches on Taste Washington Day at Olympia High School.|