North Austin school’s farm aims to teach students sustainability, provide access

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For the last nine months, around 100 first-grade students at IDEA Rundberg in north Austin have been getting their hands dirty.

That’s because the school launched its first student farm in Central Texas earlier this year. Those behind the program said the goal is to teach students about sustainability while giving them access to healthier food options.

First-grader Stephanie Rodriguez holds some mustard greens. (KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)

“This neighborhood has been historically underserved, and so we really are giving a chance for these kids to explore, learn, eat, be curious,” Hayley Wood, the school’s production farmer said.

Those at IDEA Rundberg say they’re seeing something similar happen at their school. The first graders are not only learning how to maintain their own plants but they’re able to try the various fruits and vegetables. Students like Stephanie Rodriguez, who has discovered she is not a fan of radishes.

Earlier this year, a study by the University of Texas found school gardens are linked to kids eating more vegetables. The study looked at 16 Central Texas elementary schools specifically focused on those with a high percentage of students on the free and reduced-price lunch program. They wanted to know how the nutrition programs would affect low-income groups. One of the things they discovered is that students who participated in those programs ate, on average, a half serving more vegetables per day than they did before being a part of a program.

“They’re like spicy,” the first-grader said.

“A lot of my students didn’t know what a radish was, so we learned about what that was,” Shyniece Gregory, a first-grade science and social science teacher at the school said. “They don’t know what kale is, they don’t know what it tastes like so just giving them that opportunity that they may not have had at another school or experience at home just to taste these things.”

Production Farmer Hayley Wood holds some broccoli. (KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)

To date, the students in the program have grown 600 pounds of produce all of which ends up in the school lunches.

“If we don’t plant plants, we cannot have lunch, so we need to plant them so we can have lunch,” Rodriguez said.

For Wood, she hopes the farm will sprout a healthier future for her students and their families.

“A lot of families won’t be able to buy these types of veggies in the store they may not even be in the store, and so for their kids to get exposed to it, it will be at least a small increment of change for a family’s diet,” Wood said.

At present, they are growing have broccoli, cauliflower, beets, carrots, radishes, kale and some herbs.

One of our area’s largest school districts, Austin ISD also offers an agriculture program at four area high schools as well as certification options for students interested in the career path.

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