“I want a garden where my students can go out and learn about where their food comes from.”
That was part of teacher Jessica Mann’s goal when she started her Carihi garden initiative.
Mann teaches the cafeteria program at Carihi, as well as the baking class, and she runs the school’s Gardening Club.
The garden itself was built with the help of various groups within the school and this will be the school’s second year using it.
“I really want to connect [the garden] with my program and have my students harvest things to use in the food we serve in our cafeteria,” said Mann.
Unlike a regular high school foods class, Mann’s cafeteria program allows students to gain experience in a professional kitchen, serving and preparing food. Her students gain valuable hands-on skills that can be put on their resumés.
Mann teaches in the morning during A and B block and the students work through the morning preparing food so that it is ready to serve by lunchtime.
Last year, Mann’s gardening students grew lots of fresh greens, vegetables, berries and herbs that were used in many of the cafeteria’s menu items.
“The awkward thing is,” Mann says, “most of this stuff is ready in the summer when we’re not in class. We had it on a self-watering timer system, so I came back to the school a few times over summer to harvest what I could. When we came back in September, we took all our tomatoes and made salsa. We had a lot of kale, so we made kale chips. We used the rhubarb in my baking classes and had peas for our salads.
“It worked out so that we had stuff to harvest during the first few weeks and the last few weeks of the school year.”
Mann hopes to see more programs benefit from the garden than just hers.
“It’s not my garden; it’s the school’s garden,” she says. “I want to share the space with everyone and have everyone contribute to it. The woodworking classes have already built benches that are out there now and I would love to see art students build sculptures to put around it and have it become this place where students come to eat their lunch and enjoy the garden.”
Mann herself is not an expert gardener but she loved having her mother’s garden growing up and being able to cook with the beautiful produce she grew. She is learning from the school garden, as are her students. The garden will promote gardening to the younger generation and contribute to the strong sense of community in the student body.
“It’s still a work in progress but I’m excited to see how it grows in the years to come,” said Mann.