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"Farm to Fork" Teaches Kids to Farm in Town

In a small classroom at Knox College, a group of kids sat in a circle of tables, surrounded by seed catalogs and marked up sheets of paper.

They had been learning for the past week how to properly make compost as well as how to weed, and water a garden. Now as they finished their last day of the Farm to Fork Summer Camp, they drew up plans to create gardens of their own.

The camp was designed to teach 10 to 15 year olds how to grow and prepare their own food.

If you give it some care, maybe nature will give it some care (too), maybe it'll just work

Peter Schwartzman sat at one of the tables, every once and a while asking questions or giving advice.

Schwartzman, Associate Professor and Chair of Environmental Studies at Knox College, organized “Farm to Fork,” and said the camp uses applied learning to teach kids both the concepts and skills they need to become urban farmers.

He said that the only way kids can really figure out all the challenges involved in gardening, is to plant their own.

"How are you going to pull that all together and start your own little garden, or big garden? What are you going to do?” he asked.

Twelve-year-old Isaiah Hill from Galesburg sat looking intensely at a sheet a paper, sketching out where he wanted to put certain plants in his garden.

"I’m thinking about adding carrots, tomatoes and a little bit of broccoli,” he said.

Isaiah said before the camp he never really thought about making a garden, but it changed his mind.

"Now that I’m getting into it, I plan on planting a garden when I get home today,” he said.

The camp also included field trips to local farms, like the “Growing Together” Urban Farm in Galesburg. 

Matt Wallen is the manager of Growing Together and the other instructor for Farm to Fork. He chose coming to Galesburg to run the urban farm over a position in Hawaii.

Schwartzman and Wallen also brought the kids to the Knox College Urban Farm, not far from the classroom, to learn how to weed and plant firsthand.

On the camp's last day they planted bean sprouts that they had started in small balls of earth in the classroom on day one.

After Schwartzman showed the group how to clear the soil of weeds, each child got a chance to plant a sprout in the ground.

There were more clumps of earth with sprouts inside than there were kids to plant them.

Wallen and Isaiah planted the rest, with Wallen giving him some pointers and showing him the correct way to press the earth gently over the sprouts.

"If you give it some care, maybe nature will give it some care (too), maybe it’ll just work," Wallen said.

The group also harvested some dark red, verging on purple, lettuce and some garlic for their lunch. As they picked the garlic, some of the kids were worried by a plant with an ominous looking red stem.

Schwartzman stepped in with some much need plant identification assistance.

“This is a maple tree, ok? There’s thousand’s of maple trees that come in here. It also has bark, you’re not going to find bark on poison ivy,” he said.

Wallen had been teaching the kids not only how to grow food, but what to do with it once it’s been grown, including the garlic they just picked.

"We’re just going to roast it and it’ll be something simple that they know what to do with it straight from the farm,” he said.

The rest of the small kitchen they used was set up into stations. Two kids sautéed, while two kids chopped, and another two mixed cut greens into the salad bowl.

As the kids cooked, Schwartzman cleaned up the catalogs in the classroom from earlier. He pointed at the white board that was nearly filled with the plants and terms that had been covered in Farm to Fork's five days.

The left side contained all the plants they studied, learning what time of year that they would best be planted and what crops, like pumpkins, would take a long time to mature.
The right side of the board had a long list of the terms and concepts that they studied. The list included Community Supported Agriculture, and NPK. Which is the abbreviation for the three main plan nutrients used in agriculture - Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium.

Schwartzman says even though “Farm to fork” is only 5 days long, the camp was designed to be in-depth.

“I have a lot of confidence in our youth," he said.

Schwartzman continued, "I mean some of the stuff may go over their heads, but for some of them I can tell by the way they use the words and the way they integrate into their dialog, they’re getting it.”

The funding for the camp was provided by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Agency.

Schwartzman said the camp’s expenses are relatively small and he wants to expand the camp beyond the two sessions it held this year, and offer a more in–depth camp if he can get enough funding.

The camp closed with the group discussing the meal they had just made. Schwartzman then handed out new, shiny trowels to each person so they could start their gardens when they got home.