By Timyka Artist, WCPO
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't been all that bad for some Tri-State students and teachers.
Students at James N. Gamble Montessori High School haven't returned to the classroom just yet, but they are successfully making the shift to outdoor learning through agricultural sciences.
Students in the farm-to-school program are learning the ways of farming in the middle of the city. Planting, harvesting and later eating crops like arugula, asparagus, mustard greens, rhubarb and more.
Mary Dudley runs the school's food sciences program. She has her largest class ever this year.
"I think of it as a social justice issue as students really need to know what they are eating, where food comes from and how they can contribute to a sustainable future," Dudley said.
According to Dudley, 111 students have enrolled. Even before virtual and outdoor learning became the standard, principal Taylor Porter said Gamble Montessori was well ahead of the game with a program in full bloom.
"We've already been running outdoor classrooms, nurseries and gardens, and a lot of the farm skills that people are interested in right now that's already embedded in the culture of our schools," Porter said.
Students are also sent home with starter kits to grow beans from home. No class time required.
"That love of learning the outdoors and seeing the outdoors is not only a place of relaxation but a place of exploration," Dudley said.
Director of the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Counci Michaela Oldfield said lessons about healthy eating habits are best served when kids are young.
"If 10% of our regional population shifted about 10% of their food budget to purchasing local, it translates to a $66 million investment in our local economy," Oldfield said.
And that, she said, is a win-win — not only for the farming community but for students who score higher on standardized tests when enrolled in Farm-to-School programs like these.
"I think it's really important to continually educate them about healthy food choices. Then if they have the opportunity to grow their own you can't get much better and fresher than that," Dudley said.