Ohlone Public Elementary School and Kid Run Farmers Market
“Where are the plum popsicles?” says one student, readying his cash for purchase at the Ohlone Elementary School weekly farmers market. Artichokes, eggs, kale, beets, oranges, honey, popsicles and jam are just a few of the items being sold by some very young farmers at this Palo Alto public school.
Since 1976, Ohlone School is a place where teachers incorporate activities of a working farm into the academic curriculum that includes social studies, math, science and more. “Here at Ohlone your hands get a little dirty on the farm,” says Principal Nicki Smith. Classwork extends outside into this one-acre farm classroom complete with animals, vegetable garden, fruit orchard, beehives and a native habitat. “The farm is a gift because it gives students context and extra depth of learning each time they visit,” says Nicki.
Say “hello” to convivial sheep Daisy and Iris; Prince, the goat; and a dozen chickens. These sweet, mischievous characters add to the fun spirit of this special farm. But the animals’ crucial contribution is their manure, which is mixed with straw and farm greens to form a closed-compost system.
“Students learn there is a relationship with food and nutrition, which begins with nutrient-rich soil,” says Farm Manager Marieluise Fries. “The kids taste many new kinds of foods, and families find them more willing to try new fruits and vegetables at home,” she says. Once a week students visit the farm for interactive experiences that deepen their understanding of different subject areas.
During a math lesson, students plant seedlings after measuring garden beds to determine soil volume and seed spacing. Other learning opportunities include special simulations about the Gold Rush and Ohlone Native American history. Students learn of the close relationship the indigenous Ohlone culture had with plants, which defined their everyday life and sustenance.
“It is important to teach the process of making a particular food edible and how lives were centered around these processes,” says Marieluise. To make acorns edible, the Ohlone Native Americans had to gather, dry and shell the nuts and then pound them with a pestle in a mortar. Students take part in all of these steps. After a few more phases, the acorn meal is mixed with water, boiled and then students taste acorn mush. “This teaches that food was not taken for granted and the entire village worked together to provide their basic needs,” notes Marieluise.
On this sunny day at the school’s farmers market the handmade plum jam and plum popsicles are selling fast, alongside vegetables from the garden. Today’s math lesson in counting change is a bit overshadowed by the furious licking of melting treats, and the laughter that comes with purple plum smiles!