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North Hills Monthly

Shaler Students Take Learning a Step Further With Farm-to-Table Project

Jan 30, 2015 04:06PM ● By Veronica Tucker

Collard greens. Orange hubbard squash. Red cabbage. Tuscan kale. If these items were placed on a table for you to identify, could you do it?

This was exactly the task given to students in the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program at Shaler Area High School after they took first place in the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps, an international, year-long challenge that dares students to ‘take on a challenge, observe nature, love your planet, and make a difference.’ The first-place win included a $1,000 grant.

“Kathleen Elder and I tried to determine how best to utilize the money for the students,” said Christina Palladino. “We decided to participate in a winter farm share with the goal of bringing the local farm-grown foods to the school, exposing the students to the food and then challenging them to take the produce home and do something with it.” Elder and Palladino are both teachers with the Shaler GATE program.

There are currently about 120 students in the GATE program, and about 40 are taking part in the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. The students will receive six baskets from Kretschmann Farm in New Sewickley Township. “Our teachers, Mrs. Palladino and Mrs. Elder, pick out some vegetables and bring them to school for us to choose from, and so far, it’s been very fun!” said senior Stephen Callen.

Locally grown food items are displayed with corresponding numbers, which the teachers use to create a quiz that requires students to identify the food. “These are very bright high school students who understand healthy eating, and many students admitted to being surprised that they could not identify the produce,” said Palladino.

“This has been an interesting learning experience,” she added. “In this region, there are so many wonderful, locally grown items, but many of us are not exposed to them.”

Students are encouraged to take the foods home and cook with them. All students who take on this challenge must complete a form explaining what they made, with whom it was shared and provide a summary of the experience. Students are also asked to bring a sample or picture of their product.

“From the last basket, 15 students took items,” said Palladino. “One student roasted beets. Another made coleslaw which he served to his family on Christmas Day.”

“I love to cook, so any opportunity I can take to make some good food I’ll take,” said Callen. It’s surprised me to learn just what some fruits and vegetables can look like when they’re not over-processed. “

Palladino and Elder couldn’t be happier with the outcome of this farm-to-table activity. “This has been received more positively than we had anticipated. Besides learning to identify and prepare local winter produce, students are learning that they can grow these items in their own small gardens,” said Palladino.

Plans are in the works to submit the project to this year’s Fairchild Challenge and to continue these environment-promoting activities, possibly by expanding the program to elementary students in the school district.

“We know that teenagers love food, so this seemed like a great idea,” summarized Palladino. “Beyond the practical, more tangible lessons, other positive outcomes have been realized. Students are sharing this information with their families. They are learning the lifelong lesson of how easily and attainably they can eat healthfully and enjoy what our region has to offer.”