It can seem like every new restaurant markets itself as “farm-to-table,” but one local high school is the real deal.
At North Forsyth High School, students in the food and nutrition and agriculture pathways work together to grow and prepare food.
“We wanted to take two different career pathway programs and basically make them a very strong farm-to-table program as kind of a model for the state of Georgia,” said Valery Lowe, college and career development director at Forsyth County Schools.
The school has two greenhouses, a garden and a tunnel house where food is grown and maintained by the agriculture students and later cooked by the food and nutrition students.
“We plant it and we grow it so they can cook it and eat it,” said Tanner Copeland, a junior in the agriculture pathway.
Agriculture students have to plant seeds, check the pH and water levels of their hydroponics system, monitor conditions of the produce and plants and many other duties.
“It’s a huge responsibility put on the kids,” said Stacey Cagle, the school’s advisor for Future Farmers of America. “Not only do they come out here and check on things but they have to make sure they do things the right way and that they are really focused and careful about the details because we’ve had lots of experience where we lost a lot of our product because one little thing went wrong.”
One of the big projects in the newer of the two greenhouses is growing lettuce with a hydroponic system, or putting the plants’ roots in water rather than soil. The greenhouse can grow about 360 heads of lettuce, which is sold to raise funds for between $4 and $5.
“We buy the plastic containers just like you’d see at the grocery store. We’ve got our own labels,” Cagle said. “So they do all the harvesting, all the packaging, all the labeling, then we sell our lettuce to teachers here at North, at Coal Mountain Elementary and North Middle.”
For the food and nutrition students, having ingredients on campus helps them learn to be more professional by flavoring and garnishing the meals they prepare.
“Instead of having chicken parmesan or spaghetti, [our teacher] wants us to put the herbs with it so it has a nice look, more like scenery; not only does it taste good, but it looks good,” Shaker Awad, a junior said.
Sheri Smith, a teacher in the food sciences program, said she wants students to know how to grow a garden and cook what they grow.
“It definitely has inspired me to use a lot more things than I would typically use and grow stuff instead of buying it,” she said. “There is a reward about growing it yourself and picking it.”
Students said the farm-to-table program gives more hands-on experience than learning from a book or lecture.
“We just like to keep it as much in-house as possible because our teachers won’t let us just go to the store and pick up a taco kit,” said Patrick Griswood, a junior. “We have to actually get the tortillas, bake them in the oven, make the taco and making the seasonings with the herbs and spices.”