Marisa Mendoza, FRidge Sous Chef
It all started nine years ago when Chef Ron handed the past head of school, Mark Pierotti, a shovel and took his picture out in the grass near the lower parking lot. Mr. Pierotti agreed that building a school garden was a wonderful idea and something Forest Ridge must have. Soon after that shovel picture, lumber was purchased for the first raised bed. Two parents of FR alums volunteered their time and skills to construct the beds for the school. The following year another raised bed was added, then another again the next year.
The cook's garden, situated near the lower drive and the 5th grade classrooms, was once used to produce fresh foods for a local food bank. In 2015 it was given to the school garden program to be used for educational purposes. The following year, a student-led initiative brought honeybees to campus to serve as an educational tool and provide delicious raw honey. Since then, two berry beds have been installed and planted with rows of blueberries and raspberries, in addition to a Legacy Orchard with trees first purchased on behalf of MS Global Days 2019.
Executive Chef Ron Askew created the school garden program, which is currently managed and maintained by him and his kitchen team.
We collectively call our school gardens and outdoor spaces "The Living Learnscape", which provides a regenerative space for the community to engage in academic and environmental education. It also nurtures our community by producing and appreciating food and instills a sense of wonderment and connectedness to nature.
Inspiration for starting a school garden first came from The Edible Schoolyard Academy workshops in CA and Slow Food USA's school garden network. A multitude of subjects can be taught in the garden, such as environmental sciences, health and physical education, earth sciences, life sciences, mathematics, social studies, visual arts, and even engineering.
Students are encouraged to be a part of every aspect of the gardens, from seeding to planting, harvesting, mulching, weeding. During community and club times, students in the middle school can venture out into the gardens to plant and harvest potatoes, seed garlic, harvest kale, and much more. In the past, we have had students prepare massaged kale salads, press fresh apples into cider, and make potato pancakes, all utilizing garden produce.
The MS Sprout Club helped revive the seed library by promoting it to their peers and collecting seeds to stock it. They also oversaw the sprouting of seeds and diligently watered and cared for them each day until they were ready to plant outside. Students also have opportunities to take the fresh garden produce into the kitchen and classrooms and transform it into delicious, wholesome meals.
The Food Matters class is offered to high school students and brings together food and science. The FRidge chefs teamed up with HS science teacher Corina Rahmig to provide this unique elective course to juniors and seniors. Students explore the physical and chemical reactions during cooking and in the human body when eating food in this course. In addition to physical science topics, the social and environmental aspects of food are also discussed. Students participate in hands-on cooking lessons led by the chefs, where they develop knife skills, learn various cooking techniques, and explore global cuisines. Students harvest from the gardens at the beginning of class then bring the bounty into the kitchen to work with, touching on topics of seasonality and locality.
Outside of academia, students always have the opportunity to volunteer their free time to assist in the gardens. Each summer, we have a handful of students harvest blackberries from the campus's many bramble patches that are then frozen and stored for use throughout the school year (blackberry ice cream, anyone?!).
Throughout the history of the Living Learnscape, many people outside of Forest Ridge have supported the gardens and made it the beautiful and bountiful space it is today. Many of the structural components of the gardens are funded by grants from the Whole Kids Foundation, The Bee Cause Project, Whole Foods, and The Bee Conservancy. Farmer Frog of Woodinville, WA has generously donated plants and many other plants are sourced from Garden Treasures Organic Farm in Arlington, WA. Farmer Mark of Garden Treasures has been a massive supporter of our food and garden program, providing his growing expertise, educational outreach, and an annual CSA program to the FR community. Our Legacy Orchard fruit trees were purchased from a 3rd generation farmer in the Skagit Valley. Our garden program has been supported in part by Highline College's sustainable agriculture program and Bastyr University's permaculture and nutrition programs, providing volunteers, interns, and invaluable knowledge. Slow Food Seattle has also donated seeds and knowledge to our gardens. Support for the apiary (honeybee space) has been provided by Bob Redmond of Urban Bee Company, Puget Sound Beekeepers Association, and a current FR parent with a career history in commercial beekeeping. And of course, the ongoing support of FR administration and the endless stream of enthusiasm and inspiration of the student body enables the Living Learnscape to continue to thrive.
With many layers of garden activity already happening in the Learnscape, we look to the future with even more bright ideas and passion for academically integrated outdoor education. The underlying goals of the Living Learnscape are to provide a space for academic and experiential education to take place as well as support and enhance our local ecosystem. We hope to produce even more fruits, nuts, and vegetables that can be served in the cafeteria and install a food forest that will provide all this and more. The food and garden team is currently partnering with the facilities department to construct a garden shed, which will serve as storage space for the plentiful garden tools and equipment and as a space for classes to gather and serve as an entrance to the garden. The garden team plans to host a series of work parties to help reclaim the slope on the lower lot, removing the invasive plants and reviving the soil with compost and wood chip mulch.
The Living Learnscape will continue to grow in both bounty and size into the coming years, providing Forest Ridge with good nutrition, education, and experiences that will last a lifetime.