Urban farm brings kids full circle with food they eat

SUNNYVALE, CA

Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale is an independent non-profit organization. It is a rare working farm in the heart of Silicon Valley, but it is also an outdoor classroom for a new generation of gardeners.

"I really like farming, being in the sunshine and having fun," said student Cindy Lenhu.

When Full Circle broke ground two years ago, part of its mission was to create an outdoor learning center for nearby Peterson Middle School.

"This farm is really an opportunity for us to reconnect kids with their food, you know, where does your food come from? How does that happen?" said Rebecca Jepsen, ex-director of Full Circle Farm.

Sixth grade students at Peterson explore the answers to those questions in a semester-long course. The kids immerse themselves in planting, mulching and harvesting, but if you watch and listen, the farming experience is all about life sciences, the environment and healthy eating.

"We learned a lot about worms and we even got to touch them and examine them and write about them in our farm journals," said student Tiffany Wang.

"I learned how composting is done and that worms are a big, big help in making soil fertilized," said student Ilyas Kamil.

"We're learning about the eco systems and the cycle of life," said student Niharika Bhat.

The innovative program is just a small part of the Full Circle operation, but it is so successful there are plans to expand it to include more students. After all, the non-profit leases the land from the school district.

The 11-acre plot of land was not set aside lightly. At a time when school funding is constantly being cut, the district seriously considered selling the property for development.

Instead of cashing in for quick financial gain, the district made a decision to lease the land to sustainable community gardens as part of what it considers a long-term investment.

<-- "It was a hard choice, but it was the right choice, and sometimes you have to do what's right for the kids and our community and not look at the money,"

--> The benefits are already multiplying. This fall, the farm began producing enough vegetables to pass along some of the produce to the school cafeteria.

School chef Bob Mencimer is able to create meals that include cole slaw using Napa cabbage, chard and a pinch of cilantro. These are not the school lunches you remember.

"We're enhancing the products that we already have so the kids have a chance to taste newer and fresher items," said Mencimer.

So when students pick up a hot sandwich they also toss in a salad. It turns out healthy eating is an easy sell when the kids help grow the food themselves.

"And how that fresh food like this tastes a lot better than what you get in the store, pesticide-free," said student William Griffiths.

Many of the young farmers say they are taking home the lessons of organic gardening and teaching their parents what it takes to grow your own and eat healthier.

"We have a lot of fruit, too, like raspberries," said sixth grade student Nardos Ghebrmicael. "We just wash them and eat them."

The adults in the garden say there is no greater tribute to the program than to watch children get excited about good food going from the farm to the fork.

"They're really getting a full circle," said education director Sarah Gallardo. "There's a lot of intention behind that name. They're getting a full circle experience here."

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