DONNA, TX -- Even lunch time is a learning experience for a select group of students on the border with a charter school redefining food culture in the classroom.
It began with the planting of an idea to create a farm on school grounds. Now, that idea has turned into an acre-sized classroom that opened in 2008 at the IDEA Public School in Donna, Texas.
It's part of a program that teaches children agriculture basics and different food systems.
Hernan Colmenero, the school’s farmer says that he wants to change food culture by helping kids understand the root of the problem.
“They said: ‘Sir, you can’t grow pizza’ and I was kind of struck by it, but I had to explain that you can grow the ingredients to make pizza,” Colmenero recalled. “So I think that sort of emphasizes how removed we are from our food and where it comes from.”
Noah Cantu, an 8th grader at IDEA Academy, was so excited about the course that he would come back to the farm after school to help grow over a dozen varieties of vegetables.
“I can go home then apply those techniques and grow my own fruits and vegetables,” he said.
Vegetables at the farm take about eight weeks to grow. Once they are ready to be picked, they are taken into the cafeteria where the menu is created around the available produce.
“When you go to the cafeteria and you eat the fruits and vegetables, you can really taste the freshness,” Cantu said. “If you’re part of the farming program, you can say, ‘Hey, that’s the tomato that I grew and now I’m eating it!’”
According to IDEA, the farms at two of their campuses grew over 6,600 pounds of produce last year, with about 95 percent of it used in the cafeteria, while the rest is sold to parents at the campus farmer’s market.
“Our mission is definitely for them to be exposed to healthy alternatives, and if they’re convincing their parents to give them a garden space so they can grow their own food, then I think I’ve done my job,” Colmenero said.
IDEA says that it has harvested a good farm program at the school and that they plan to take it to other charter schools in Austin and San Antonio, where it will continue to grow.