Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A place where ‘locavores’ rule

At Waldorf school, students learn the cycles of food production


Second-grader Esmee Verheijen waters garlic plants in The Mountain School’s gardens. Photo by Willy Cook

"Where does your food come from?"

For students at The Mountain School near Bellevue, that question is an easy one to answer.

The school—based on the Waldorf model of education, which emphasizes learning through hands-on experience—lets students see, smell, touch and taste their food through its unique organic lunch program.

On the school's campus-cum-farm a short walk from the Big Wood River, kids get involved in every stage of food production and preparation. They help collect eggs from flocks of chickens and ducks. They help gather sweet honey produced by a hive of bees. They help milk the school's dairy cow, Lalita, although state law prohibits the kids from consuming milk or milk products that are not first processed in a federally licensed dairy facility.

"Our young farmers participate in all the daily chores of caring for the animals—feeding, cleaning stalls, changing and cleaning water troughs, grooming, and whenever necessary, introductory veterinary care," said Kate Woods, head of the school. "They then reap the benefits in their nutritious lunch meals."


In the spring, the children plant seeds and nurture them into starts for the expansive vegetable gardens. The gardens ultimately provide salad greens, edible flowers, carrots, beets, melons, summer and winter squash, beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, garlic, apples, pears, plums, raspberries and gooseberries. With the approval of neighbors, kids glean from many old fruit trees growing in Bellevue to make jams, syrups, dried fruits and fruit leathers. From the wild, they help harvest edible weeds for salads, choke cherries for jam and herbs for teas and cooking.

In the school's kitchen, the children peel and chop fresh vegetables, grind grains, stir the soup and help bake the bread.

Will they be farmers or chefs? Perhaps. But no matter what they choose to do, the students at The Mountain School will have a quick, assured answer for that question about the origin of their food.

"Our farm," they'll say.

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