Program gets students growing: Harvests benefit 67 Sarasota County cafeterias

On a little patch of land off McIntosh Road in Sarasota County, students are making the grade by getting their hands dirty.

Parts of this curriculum can be learned from a book, but most of it comes from hands-on experience. Flowers, okra, gourds, and tomatoes take the place of term papers and multiple choice exams.

"It's different. It’s not like the normal textbooks and it’s going out and working with a shovel and planting a plant," said Sarasota High School senior Skyler Farnsworth. "It's getting kids back into what it started. Everything started from farming. We wouldn’t have our animals without farming. It’s showing them there’s something different besides electronics and TVs. It’s going outside and playing with dirt." 

Skyler and her classmates are in Sarasota County Schools' Farm to School Program. Instructors teach students about the basics of farming. In return, they put fresh food in 67 cafeterias across the district.

"They're doing it [by] trial and error, learning as they go along. They’re having the opportunity to make mistakes and fix those mistakes," said Carrie McDonald, the Farm to School program coordinator and nutrition specialist.

McDonald said students are also learning to deal with mother nature's curveballs. 

The course gives students a new appreciation for how food is grown and a sense of accomplishment they might not get in the classroom.

"It helps them have a relationship with healthy food that they may not have had otherwise," said McDonald.