January at the School Farm

It’s rainy, soggy, cold and gray! That doesn’t stop us at the School Farm. January is the time to start turning over the cover crops with Third Graders…

make mason bee houses with Fourth Graders…

spread native wildflower seeds to attract pollinators and beneficial insects with Second Graders…

trench compost with Sixth Graders and Kindergarteners…

go to the forest with the First Graders to see the nurse log, and draw it…

grow microgreens with Second Graders, and eat them!

Plus eat fresh-picked carrots and enjoy lots of culinary classes!!!

These are just a few of the lessons and farm activities we’ve been doing this January!

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Delicious Winter Carrots at the High School!

~High School Garden Report by Chad Fisher, AmeriCorps

Carrots are back at the School Farm Stand!

We hope everyone had a restful break and a wonderful holiday season. As of today, Thursday, Jan. 6th, the South Whidbey High School Farm Stand has been restocked with carrots. The suggested donation for carrots is $4/bag.

High school agriculture students just did a blind taste test with these carrots and store-bought ones, and the school farm carrots were a big hit.

Students described them as juicy, crisp, sweet, and fresh. Some students liked them so much they went in for a 2nd and even 3rd helping. All groups chose the school farm carrot over the store-bought one!

Drop by the self-serve stand anytime to stock up on these yummy carrots grown by the students and AmeriCorps members!

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Winter Begins at the School Farm

Hello! My name is Riley, I am an Americorps member serving at the South Whidbey School Farms. Here is a recap on some of the activities that have taken place at the farm this season and things we have to look forward to as we enter the new year. 

Farmer Riley feeding the worms

Planting Bulbs

Many of the students at the farm had the opportunity to work with and plant native flower bulbs this past month. We were able to engage our sense of touch with the second graders and see how carefully the bulbs must be handled before being planted and eventually sprouting in the Spring. Other classes observed all the differences in the bulbs so they could draw a picture of them. Once it was time to plant the bulbs, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders were involved. Farmer Jay taught the students that the pointy end of the bulb that has the growing stem is to be planted upward and the flatter end with the roots goes into the soil first. After all the excitement and encouraging the students to remember where they planted their bulb, we had them guess what color their flowers will be when they bloom in the following months! Let’s see if they can remember where their flower is planted! 

That wasn’t all of the bulbs though! The 6th graders were able to journey over to the middle and high school campus and plant bulbs in the front garden. While they were planting, they met Mr. Raabe. Seth Raabe is the middle school garden teacher and the high school agriculture teacher. Mr. Raabe explained some of the differences and similarities in the programs, even highlighting the brand new farm stand that the high schoolers are an integral part of maintaining. He was able to pique the interest of some students and meet others that are already interested in continuing their journey with the South Whidbey School Farms in a new setting.

Students lined up covering their bulb
Planting a bulb

While the students are gone…

As the students begin their winter break, we have a lot of planning to do at the farm gearing up for the new year. The Americorps members also have much to reflect on as we come upon a shift in our service term and the successes we have experienced up to this point. Entering an in-person school year amid the pandemic has presented its challenges, but our team has been communicative and flexible, making for a lot of amazing opportunities with the kids. We have been able to conduct culinary classes with many grade levels and provide lots of fresh veggie snacks. The kids have been successfully working in groups and in teams down at the farm while still following the necessary precautions. We are proud of how all the students are able to work together and find community when they are gathered at the farm. 

One of the responsibilities the Americorps members have during this break is to create a planting plan for the upcoming growing season. We will be busy researching crops and deciding when to plant them on the farm. We also have to opportunity to work with Farmer Jay on some curriculum planning during this period. We look forward to reuniting with the students in the new year in just a couple of weeks! In the mean time, check out some highlights of the year below.

Highlights from the School Year so Far

Farmer Lily and Farmer Chad opened a pop up carrot shop for the students!
Farmer Rachel instructing 5th graders on how to make pasta.
Arts and Crafts Week! With cold weather comes indoor creativity, this included making paper to embed seeds in!
3rd graders digging a trench on the farm fence line.
Classes explored where all the rain water drained to from the farm.
See you in 2022!

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Food Forest at the School Farm!

Hello! My name is Mayme O’Toole and I have been serving as a member of the South Whidbey School Farms AmeriCorps Team since February 2021. As my term is wrapping up, I have been busy researching for our next big project on the School Farm – a food forest!

The 1st grade teachers expressed an interest in learning more about food forests and reached out to our farm team to see how we could work together to create our own food forest in an area just outside of the school farm. 

What is a Food Forest and why is it important at our school? A food forest can mean a lot of different things. A good way to understand the general idea though is that it is a forest and most if not all of the plants in it are edible. What defines a forest? Well, when we think about forests we think about a place full of a diverse range of plants in all different shapes and sizes. One way of categorizing a forest’s plants is thinking about it in layers. For example, in a forest on Whidbey Island there’s tall western red cedar (canopy), red alder (the lower canopy), red elderberry (shrub layer), trailing blackberry (shrub layer), and salal (groundcover/rhizosphere). Our layered food forest will incorporate existing huckleberries, salal and salmonberries as well as some non-native plants. All will serve an educational (and edible) purpose! 

So why do we need a food forest at South Whidbey School? Don’t we already grow food at our farm and have a forest right beside us? The site just north of the farm and east of the forest is in need of some help. It has barely any top soil and you can actually see the lack of fertility since even grass barely grows there. We want to guide the 1st graders on a journey of helping the land, of bringing life back to the soil – both on top, as well as underneath. Growing a diverse range of plants from large oak trees and trailing strawberries will enrich this area, teach the children about the importance of perennials, and provide nourishment for the students at the school for years to come.  

I helped research which plants we would want to grow in our food forest, where we could plant them, who we could purchase them from, how much it would cost, and what we need to do to prepare the land to plant. A big part of preparing the land is mulch. Adding thick layers of wood mulch is a great way to prepare an area that is hungry for nutrients. The thick layer of mulch provides habitat for insects and fungi, and overtime the wood decomposes and adds nutrients to the soil. Neighbors in the community with extra wood mulch donated a large amount to us so we have a good amount to start with. 

Another important tool we will be using in the early stages of the food forest is nitrogen fixation. We are going to plant goumi berry, buffalo berry and siberian pea shrubs initially, which are all edible and nitrogen-fixing. The bacteria on the roots of these plants convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plants can use. We will be planting this upcoming spring so we are getting our grants written to get funding for the plants. We will be putting in an order with a local nursery very soon.  

As my final weeks of service are approaching I reflect on how valuable this experience has been for me.  Engaging with a community that I have grown to know well and love, and learned from and problem-solved with, is a bittersweet goodbye. I will be staying on Whidbey Island and continuing to cultivate food.

Although I will no longer be serving at the School Farm, I will be back to help with this project I am sure!

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Farm to Home – Harvest Feast 2021

Rachel Nottingham, AmeriCorps service member who teaches the culinary classes and coordinates the Elementary School snack program, gets lots of thank you letters from the students! They LOVE to cook, and eat!

In this post, she shares about the Elementary School Farm to Home Harvest Feast on Thursday, November 18th.

This year, the Harvest Feast was fully adapted to a take-home meal. Included were new recipes we developed that were made by our 5th and 6th grade culinary students! Click HERE for the menu!

They began their preparation by learning how to make mashed potatoes and exploring different methods to meet allergy concerns. This lesson consisted of knife skills and cooking techniques including how to confit garlic! 

After mastering 112 pounds of potatoes we moved on to arguably the most important dish of fall.. Pumpkin Pie! A big thank you to Whidbey Pies for donating pie crusts to make this happen! The students learned the importance of warming spices and why ratios are important when blending them. They jumped right in by scooping out the seeds of the farm grown pumpkins with their (gloved) hands, and practiced cracking eggs. Their effort was rewarded in the form of 40 pumpkin pies! 

You’d think they’d get tired cutting 60 pounds of carrots but they proved us wrong! During a 40 minute lesson, these students plowed through farm harvested carrots for the thyme and garlic roasted carrots!

Our culinary students are ready for any cutting job after this accomplishment! 


The final recipe was a seasonal kale salad. The students prepped the kale using a massage technique to break down the fibers so the salad could soak up more of the vinaigrette that featured the apple juice from their apple pressing lesson! They were able to release all their pre-teen angst by emulsifying balsamic vinegar and olive oil to be mixed in completing the Harvest Feast kale salad. 

Then, on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, the boxed-up meals were delivered to the over 275 students and family members who had signed up. Artwork and cards from the younger grades, as well as the menu, were included in the decorated bags.

We got fan mail! “I just want to thank you all for the lovely harvest feast we had last night, compliments of my granddaughter Savannah Alder (kindergarten) who proudly brought dinner home to her family including us grandparents.
Not only was the food delicious but during dinner Savannah shared with us all she had learned about what is UNDER the mulch – much to the delight of her little brother who loves worms and all crawly things. Best of all, the kids ate and loved the vegetables and really loved the pie! Many thanks from our family!”

The 2021 Harvest Feast was made possible by Whidbey Island Nourishes, and South Whidbey School Farms. and we are excited for next year’s event! 

Cheers to a bountiful season!

Posted in Americorps, Culinary, Events, Harvest, Harvest Feast, Thanksgiving feast, Updates from the garden!, Whidbey Island Nourishes | Leave a comment

Cooking up a Storm!

Hi there! I’m Chad and I’m one of the AmeriCorps members at the South Whidbey School Farms. I’d like to share an update on the culinary happenings around campus.

Breakfast Bagels @ The Middle School

The students have been busy getting ready for Harvest Feast and taking culinary classes. AmeriCorps member Rachel Nottingham taught 7th and 8th grade students how to make breakfast bagels with fresh kale, peppers, tomatoes, and more from the garden! The students mixed their own eggs, prepped their own vegetables, and cooked on a griddle. What a fun way to start the school day!

Pumpkin Pie

5th and 6th graders learned to deseed a pumpkin and spice pumpkin puree for pies. The pumpkins grown on the school farm and processed by the students will be made into delicious pies for the Harvest Feast on November 18th. This was a messy class but super fun!

Apple Cider

K – 6 Elementary School students got to press their own apple cider and enjoyed drinking it in early November. Students enjoyed it so much we could barely keep up with demand!

Microgreen Salads with 2nd Grade

2nd graders worked on reading ingredients list and measuring ingredients by making their own salad dressings. They made a delicious yogurt ranch and a balsamic vinaigrette and enjoyed farm fresh kale, salad turnips, and carrots along with sunflower and broccoli microgreens. Kids said this was the best salad they’ve ever had (don’t tell their parents)!

Next the students will be preparing kale salad, carrot sticks, mashed potatoes and the rest of the pumpkin pies for the harvest feast!

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Nourishing the soil!

Winter is the time to rejuvenate the soil that has given so much to us through the season. The students have been planting cover crops, spreading mulches, making compost and trench composting. So many ways to restore the soil and re-cycle organic matter!

Lots of bed clean-up and then 3rd graders made compost with the greens and browns. They loved putting their arms in all the way to the center to feel the heat of the composting!

Trench composting with the smashed apples from the cider pressing will feed the soil from below and mulching kale with grass and leaf clippings provides organic matter from above.

Cover crops hold nutrients in the soil and they will be turned over in late January to decompose and add organic matter for our spring crops.

We mulch everything that isn’t planted with cover crops!

Another fun way we nourish soil is our pumpkin spiral. A big thank you to all the families who donated their Halloween pumpkins to the decomposing pumpkin spiral!

The grass is much greener where the pumpkins have been…last year’s decomposing pumpkins created a green spiral in the meadow! It’s such a vivid demonstration of how decomposing organic matter adds nutrients to the soil. Now it will be fun to watch them disappear into the soil over the coming months.

How green will the spiral be this summer?

Posted in Americorps, Children in the garden, Decomposing pumpkins, Updates from the garden! | Leave a comment

Harvest Feast 2021- Farm to Home this year!

Students have been working hard at the Elementary School Farm since school started and now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of their labor! On November 18, we will be providing a free, take-home feast for the K – 6 students and their families. All dishes are being prepared in the Whidbey Island Nourishes kitchen by South Whidbey’s 5th and 6th graders as part of their culinary classes.

If you are a K-6 family, make sure you sign up!
Scan the QR code below, or click HERE.
November 1st is the sign-up deadline.

Students will be making mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, kale salad, and roasted carrots – everything will be packaged and sent home with your student after school on November 18th. All you’ll need to complete the meal is a main dish.

Since 2015 (with a pause last year for the pandemic), the harvest feast has been held during lunch at the Elementary School. This year, in the spirit of giving, we are able to offer this event in a pandemic-safe but still enjoyable “take-home” format.

Let us know if you’d like to receive a meal for your family,
November 1st is the sign-up deadline.
Please sign up ASAP!
Scan the QR code below, or click HERE.

Happy Feasting!

Posted in Americorps, Culinary, Events, Harvest, Thanksgiving feast, Whidbey Island Nourishes | Leave a comment

Calling all decomposing pumpkins!

We need your Halloween pumpkins for the School Farm pumpkin spiral!

Starting Monday, November 1st, we will be collecting pumpkins!

Put in the blue pickup truck at the North Campus, or drop off in a yellow cart at the South Campus.

In this video, see an overhead view of the pumpkin spiral at the beginning and end, and a tour of the school farm and surroundings in the middle.

Posted in Decomposing pumpkins, Lessons | Leave a comment

High School Farm Stand now open!

The South Whidbey School Farmstand is up and running! Thanks to lots of hard work on the part of students, staff, and AmeriCorps service members, we are now open! It is a self-serve farmstand full of produce all grown and harvested by South Whidbey students. Please bring your own reusable bags to reduce waste and support the School Farm Program.

All proceeds go to the SW School Farm Program through Readiness To Learn. You can pay with cash, check, or by using the QR code posted in the stand or by visiting  www.donorbox.org/high-school-farm-stand

Come check it out on Maxwelton Road right in front of the 7-12 campus (the High School)!

See the article about the Farm Stand in the South Whidbey Record HERE!

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