When you ask parents around Portland what their kids are eating in the school cafeteria, the undertones of their responses sound eerily similar—they’re usually filled with disappointment and paired with a frustrated eye roll. Sometimes they’re followed by a long rant about the lack of available healthy options and a concern over the long-term health effects of their child's lunch-time eating habits. “If children just had access to the healthy stuff,” they say. “If they could only get excited about eating their veggies.” Sounds a bit like a fantasy, doesn’t it? After all, what child likes eating vegetables? But on a small urban farm just south of Portland, Courtney Leeds, Brooke Heiserich, and Justin Davidson, along with the help of countless community volunteers, are trying to turn all of that around. And not just for a season or even a year, but for the foreseeable future.
The trio began Schoolyard Farms, a nonprofit educational farm, with the goal of creating a sustainable outdoor education model that gets kids to learn about, grow, and eat fruits and vegetables. The organization is piloting their model at Candy Lane Elementary in Milwaukie and, so far, they’ve seen enormous success. Their one-acre plot of land is bursting with colorful rows of rainbow chard, overflowing container beds filled with countless varieties of lettuce, and fava bean fields so large they’d make any fava-fan green with envy. The group anticipates that beginning this fall, those fruits and veggies will be circled back into the cafeteria, providing healthy lunch items to school children.
Schoolyard Farms treats the space not only as an area for growing and harvesting, but also as an outdoor classroom, where children can explore and learn under the guidance of experienced outdoor educators and farmers. During the school year, students have class in the outdoor urban farm setting once a week; during the summer, the farm transforms into a summer camp, where children are immersed for one week on the farm, learning about seeds, planting, harvesting, and cooking. The group has even arranged for cooking demonstrations to be done by local chefs and culinary enthusiasts in an effort to help children develop a positive relationship with nature and healthy cooking.
Local businesses like Pepper & Salt and Pronto Pizza that have seen the inherent value in the farm model are showing their support by ordering a portion of the thousands of pounds of produce that are harvested directly on the farm to use in their own kitchens. Both businesses are also donating their time to leading workshops on the farm.
Portlanders looking to support Schoolyard Farms directly can do so by:
- Sending their kids to summer camp: Help Schoolyard Farms grow while simultaneously educating your kids on urban farming. Schoolyard Farms Summer Camp runs 1-week camp sessions for incoming 1st through 6th graders from June 23 to August 22, teaching them about farming, cooking healthy snacks, and leading them in arts, crafts, and active play. Tuition for the weekly session is $250 and Schoolyard offers scholarships to low-income children.
- Purchasing a CSA share of the farm: For $275, Portlanders can receive one CSA share from Schoolyard Farms. Each share results in 5 small bunches of vegetables per week for 20 weeks.
- Volunteering on the farm: Those looking to donate their time while getting their hands dirty can apply for Schoolyard Farms’ Summer Farm Camp Educator Intern position or the Farming Intern position. More details about the positions are available here.
- Donating directly: Want to see Schoolyard Farms reach their goals and expand to other schools? Support their efforts by donating directly here.
Click through the slideshow above to see all of the green goodness coming out of Schoolyard Farms!