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An adult and several children are working in the School of Education's urban garden.

Learning Experiences Key Focus of Farm to School Summit

By Blake Sebring

November 8, 2023

Teachers are supposed to inspire their students, but it also works in reverse, which is why Purdue University Fort Wayne will host its first-ever Farm to School Summit on Nov. 14. Sponsored by the School of Education and starting at 2 p.m. in the Classic Ballroom at Walb Student Union, the event gathers local experts to discuss the possibilities for getting local food into schools and institutions, sustainable food systems, and the importance of providing learning experiences for children at area gardens and farms.

“I just feel like this generation is much more environmentally aware,” said Julia Smith, PFW assistant professor of early childhood development. “These young people are coming out and speaking up for the environment. If we can give them some ideas of ways where they can push back a little bit against that more conventional thinking in education, they might just say, `Hey, let’s go back to the basics and look at the beautiful environment we have and how can we teach from this?’”

Topics at the summit include school gardens, food and farming curriculum, and local food procurement in schools. The free event is scheduled to finish by 5:30 p.m.

“The idea behind the event was to build awareness,” said Smith, who has organized the School of Education’s urban garden at the Allen County Extension Office and donates produce to the PFW’s FRIENDS of the University Pantry. “This is something that I’ve been teaching in my class for a while, the idea of school gardens and getting children outdoors, connected to nature, and learning where our food comes from. There are a lot of connections to learning when you are teaching children hands-on experiential learning outdoors rather than everything taking place in the classroom.”

The idea for the summit and how it could benefit students came from discussions working in the garden with education colleagues, Smith said.

“When you have a garden at your school, they are doing a project together, planting together, weeding together, watering or harvesting together,” Smith said. “They are having this experience around food, where they are picking food and tasting it, and sometimes trying things they have never tried before—fresh, grown food from the garden.”

Following an introduction by Lucas Rodesiler, chair of the PFW teacher education program, the keynote speaker will be Brianna Goode, Indiana Department of Health Farm to School coordinator. Workshop sessions will include representatives from various area school districts.

“The School of Education is proud of our urban garden and the work of Julia Smith and the team that put it together,” said Isabel Nunez, dean. “This is an opportunity to bring young people into a natural space and learn about healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and deepen their commitment to a healthy environment.”

There will also be several presentation tables from community organizations and campus partners.

“How can we access food in our local communities and serve that in our schools?” Smith asked. “I think the young people might not have the toolset yet, but they have the passion and are willing to learn about local foods.”