One of the student-run businesses in my Fair Haven Innovates program is FH Grows. FH Grows is where my 7th graders learn to be entrepreneurs and stewards of the environment while leveraging technology and the Internet of Things to help our gardens grow. We sell our produce online and in our student-run farmers market. When we’re not working in the gardens, we are trying to solve the food problems of our future. At FH Grows, our customers know when they buy from us, they grow learning. But they aren’t just growing student learning. I’m learning right alongside my kids because when it comes to running a school garden, I am not the expert in the room.
In total, I manage 96 relationships as part of my Fair Haven Innovates program. By far, FH Grows has the most valuable relationships because I’m no gardening expert. I’ve had a garden since I’ve owned a house, but, as I’ve been learning, I only know a fraction of the tips and tricks that go into running a successful garden. Luckily, I’ve gathered a stable of experts who are willing to help me run the best school garden I can.
When it comes to gardening dos, don’ts, and what’s wrong with these plants?!, We direct our questions to the wonderful master gardeners of the Rutgers University cooperative extension. This Co-op connected us with a host of master gardeners, all within 15 minutes of our school. Our master gardeners have all been so gracious in teaching us what goes into creating a successful, year round garden. While these master gardeners aren’t classroom teachers, with their knowledge, we’ve been able to solve our school garden problems such as figuring out how, when, and what to plant knowing that they (students) aren’t in school during the peak growing season. With their help the kids and I have figured out how we can get three “grows” out of our garden while school is in session and have they otherwise helped us navigate the unique problems a school garden presents.
After our produce is harvested, we bring some of it to market. I own an edtech business and help run another, but selling produce is a world apart from working in edtech. Enter Molly Gearty, a certified horticulturist, and her wonderful crew at our town’s local nursery Sickles Market. They have been amazing in helping us learn the ins and outs of selling plants for profit. With her support, FH Grows just broke $100 in sales and landed our local pizza place, Umbertos, as our first client. Umbertos orders from us weekly, and is only using FH Grows herbs in all their dishes! They’ve even asked us to name their new pizza creation that uses all of our school-grown ingredients. Without understanding how to prep, package, and care for our plants set to be sold, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are starting to become.
You can still learn a lot from running a school garden even once you’ve picked your produce, so I don’t want the learning to stop after we harvest. While I’ve mentioned we sell some of what we grow online and in our farmer’s market, FH Grows goes further. I want students to learn everything they can about food as it takes the farm to table journey. Again, I’m no expert in these fields, so I “hired” Chef Steve to cook with students at least once a month. Chef Steve works for Maschio’s Food Services, which is the company that provides our school lunches. I found out about this cool perk that Maschio’s offers from the wonderful people at the state Department of Agriculture who run the NJ Farm to School initiative and have been so, so helpful. With Chef Steve and the rest of his crew, students are being exposed to potential careers in health and food services and learning about nutrition, wellness, and all the other lessons the farm to table journey can teach us.
The examples I’ve listed above are just a fraction of the ways the experts I’ve sourced support my Fair Haven Innovates program. The reality is, FH Grows and a lot of the other amazing experiences my students get to learn from wouldn’t be possible without these experts because I’m not an expert in everything. I’m open with students about my level of expertise. I tell my kids how far I can take them, and then tell them when we’re gonna have to learn together from someone else. Modeling what lifelong learning looks like for students and teaching them how to find the human capital they will need to support them when they need help in life is as important as teaching them how to find good information. As teachers, we don’t always have to be the expert in the room, but we should try to fill our classroom with experts. If we open up the classroom and invite these specialists in, not only will we do better for our kids, we ourselves will grow too.
Until next time,