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The STAR School Shines with Farm to School Efforts

Earth oven pizza with local toppings made by students? Pass me a slice!

The Home Economics class at the STAR School has made sure there have been plenty of slices to go around and lots of local fare with help from a local farm and school administration and staff. Located near the Southwest corner of the Navajo Nation, the STAR School has experienced success in bringing healthy, local products into the school cafeteria and growing their own in a school garden. And to make sure the lessons it learns are transferred to others, the STAR School is using a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to develop a road map for buying from local farms and developing school gardens for the 224 other schools located on the Navajo Nation. It is this effort and vision that led the STAR School to be invited to participate in this year’s Fall White House Kitchen Garden Harvest!

In addition to earth oven pizza, students in the Home Economics class at the STAR School have engaged in various other activities that help them make healthy choices. The STAR School students have harvested many items directly from the school garden for use in the Home Economics class, including lettuce and radishes. The 7th and 8th graders are helping with recipe development by conducting a “What do students like to eat?” survey and preparing and taste testing recipes, including carrot salad and squash soup. The Arizona Department of Education Farm to School Program is providing assistance to make recipe adjustments and to scale up the recipes for use in the school meal programs. Students reached out into the community by preparing salad fresh from the garden and sharing the delicious results with Navajo elders living on the reservation during an annual Valentine’s Day community service day.

STAR School students prepare assorted vegetables.

The hands-on education has not only taught them where their food comes from, but also reinforced lessons related to traditional foods and culture. For example, last year, a group of 5th and 6th grade students planted corn, and once it had grown, they harvested it and made kneeling down bread, a Navajo recipe. In addition, a different class dried blue corn and saved the kernels to use in stew during the winter.

The STAR School is also working to get a greenhouse up and running to provide produce for the Home Economics class. Arizona FoodCorps service members have helped build the cold frames for the greenhouse and are excited by the bounty this season-extending effort can provide. The Arizona Department of Education is providing guidance on soil testing and other best practices to certify the greenhouses and gardens to be able to serve school grown produce in the cafeteria through the Arizona state school garden certification program.

STAR School students work together to shuck freshly grown corn.

Lessons in Home Economics and in the garden are reinforced in the cafeteria where Louva Montour, Home Economics Teacher and Food Service Director, has worked with their distributor and the DoD Fresh Program to increase procurement of local foods, which now comprise 23% of the lunch tray. The distributor has helped identify local sources for dairy, protein, and produce. Additionally, the distributor has been able to incorporate product from one Navajo Nation farmer. Meanwhile, the STAR School, with assistance from North Leupp Family Farms, is helping to identify other Navajo Nation producers to potentially sell to institutional markets.

Efforts in the classroom, garden, and cafeteria have benefited students and the community at the STAR School and students were so excited to demonstrate the agriculture and nutrition lessons and healthy behaviors they have learned at the White House!