When you hear a group of kindergartners break into the spontaneous chant, “Let-tuce! Let-tuce! Let-tuce!” while walking single file between rows of planted kale, chard, cabbage and awe-inspiring lettuce, it can only mean one thing: The HEAL Project Farm in El Granada is hosting a farm field trip.
Coastsiders know that the local nonprofit organization teaches Half Moon Bay grade-schoolers about nutrition, agriculture and the environment, but the HEAL Project also educates kids throughout San Mateo County. The lettuce enthusiasts visiting the farm last week hailed from Foster City Elementary School.
Farm educators Julie Mathiasen and Katie Filar each worked with a class of Foster City kindergartners, teaching them how to respect plants and animals, pointing out the different types of produce growing in the ground around them and explaining how the farm’s beehives get their sweet work done. Later, kids learned about compost by sifting through dirt in search of “brown things” like sticks, “green things” like roots, “living things” like worms, and “nonliving things” like litter. Mathiasen and Filar also led kids on a sensory tour that included the celebrated lettuce along with strawberries that everyone was invited to handpick from the patch.
“They’re juicy,” said kindergartner Melanie, commenting on the strawberries, which started to ripen just a month ago. Her classmate Enzo plucked off the strawberry top, one tiny leaf at a time, and then took a big bite into the berry.
To date, students from 50 San Mateo County schools have been able to participate in farm field trips like this. Some groups, like the one from Foster City Elementary, schedule two visits — one in the fall followed by one in the spring. This way, kids can experience the seasons and learn what grows on the farm at different times of the year.
Amy Bono, executive director of the HEAL Project, explained that depending on what part of the county students are coming from, a farm field trip may be a child’s first opportunity to visit the coast or be in an agricultural setting.
“A lot of these kids, you hear from the teachers — they’ve never seen the ocean before and they live in San Mateo County,” said Bono. “When the kids come to the farm, it’s magic when you see them pull up a carrot out of the ground and put it in their mouth.”
San Mateo County Health helps the HEAL Project pay for operations, which include expenses like soil, but which do not include farm field trips. Participating schools pay a fee based on a sliding scale, but other sources of funding such as grants are essential, said Bono. She added that transportation is a separate issue.
“Our intention is to have at least half of the schools who come out to the farm be low-income schools,” said Bono. “We didn’t meet that goal last year because all the lowest-income schools were still catching up from pandemic impacts and they didn’t have their systems set up for busing. But this year, we were fully booked all year and we have better numbers now for having more equitable access to the farm.”
Teacher Jadelyn Chang, who brought one of the classes from Foster City Elementary last week, connected with the HEAL Project around 2015.
“It’s just something that we’ve kept doing,” said Chang. “At one point before the pandemic, almost my whole school came here. It’s an amazing program.”
For the final activity of the day, Mathiasen and Filar returned to the fields with the kids so that they could each plant three pea seeds. The kids started chanting again, saying, “Grow! Grow! Grow! Grow!”
“I like these growing vibes,” said Bono to Chang. “You have to get the kids out here more often.”
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