Give Now  »

Farm-to-fork education at an elementary school

Read Transcript
Hide Transcript


KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Our society has gotten so far disconnected from where food comes from. But if we can begin with the students, start with children, teaching them how to grow food, they will be much more interested in where their food comes from as they get older and I think that's a very important part of the process.

KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show it's back to school with Kendall Slaughter. He's the farm to school coordinator for Springfield public schools in Southern Missouri.

KAYTE YOUNG: We will tour an elementary school designed as a sun dial, meet the bunnies and the chickens and hear about how the school system is building a sustainable school garden program and moving towards local food sourcing in school lunches.

KAYTE YOUNG: That's coming right up, stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young.

KAYTE YOUNG: You may already know this about me, but in my mind when it comes to gardens and schools, it's a no brainer. The benefits are obvious from the elementary level on up through high school, there is so much to be learned from working in a garden growing food.

KAYTE YOUNG: There's biology lessons about plants and soil and insects. You can study the science of weather, work on timing certain plants for the right season, space planting, math. You can learn about economics and running a business by calculating garden inputs and production. There's nutrition lessons and so much more and this is hands on project based learning that tends to stick in our brains much more than book learning.

KAYTE YOUNG: But perhaps more important are the less measurable benefits of having gardens in schools. They provide opportunities to be outside more, to interact with nature, to work with our hands, to work cooperatively towards shared goals, to face uncertainty and to learn from failure. Gardens can serve as safe spaces for some students, maybe a place to calm down that's away from the classroom and is a space of nourishment rather than punishment and they provide chances for students to taste a vine ripened tomato or a crisp winter carrot straight from the ground, maybe for the first time.

KAYTE YOUNG: A garden at school provides a chance to make first hand connections between farm and fork and to understand where our food comes from. For our guest today, this might be the most important part.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: My name's Kendall Slaughter and I'm the farm to school coordinator for Springfield public schools.

KAYTE YOUNG: For many years now I've been longing for a farm to school program in our public school system and wishing we had a district wide gardening coordinator to support school gardens. So when I heard this was happening in the town where I spent some of my school years, I wanted to learn more.

KAYTE YOUNG: I met with Kendall at the Ag Academy in Springfield, Missouri. The Ag Academy is sort of a magnet school within the choice programs at Springfield public schools and they teach Missouri learning standards through the lens of agriculture. Here's Kendall.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: So this big main room is what we call our APR. Our all purpose room. We do pick up and drop off from this room. We do any kind of assemblies. We do lunch, we do indoor recess, anything that requires a large space will all be in the APR. So you'll notice looking out into the court yard, the building's it's round in the shape of a sundial intentionally. So as we walk around the building, I'll explain that just a little bit more, but the students are able to cut across, as you can see the kids running through the court yard right now. They kind of cut through the court yard in an attempt to circumvent the long hallway and then we allow the rabbits. We have two rabbits that we allow to run around in our courtyard daily and two guinea pigs. So the kids bring them out when they get here in the morning, they let them around all day, they monitor them, make sure they have water and food if need be, watch the weather of course. We're going to get some bad weather this afternoon, so they will probably pull them in a little bit early and then they spent the nights in the class room. So we'll show you the hutch that the rabbits stay in too as we walk around.

KAYTE YOUNG: That's so cool.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: This is a school that's a part of the choice program. So any student within the Springfield public schools has the opportunity to apply to be a part of the choice programs. That includes AFPA, AOE, which is our Academy of Exploration and our Academy of Fine and Performing Arts as well as our Health Sciences Academy that's at Mercy Hospital. So students of the appropriate age can apply to be a part of our lottery system and then we run it through a program that randomly selects students so that we aren't playing any kind of favorites to any students in the district.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: So if they get drawn for fourth grade, they have the choice to stay for fifth and sixth if they'd like to and we add some students as they may potentially move or drop out of the program. So we may have students that get added in fifth grade or in sixth grade potentially and they have that choice to move up. So after sixth grade they'll go their regular middle school that's a part of their feeder.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: So this is Ag Academy. So everything that we do here is generally centered around agriculture. So many of our math lessons, our English lessons and even our art classes have to do with agriculture in some way.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We just walked into our student kitchen. So we have two kitchens on site, one that's designed for teaching and one that's designed for the students having the opportunity to use it themselves. So the kitchen we're standing in right now is the student kitchen and if you want to follow me through here, we will go into what we call the demonstration kitchen.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: So we have risers set up and we have a sensor island for teachers to be able to teach a new recipe to the students and then they're able to go into the student kitchen and give it a try themselves.

KAYTE YOUNG: That's amazing.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: It's really cool and we've done all kinds of different cooking competitions in here. So we'll break the kids into different groups and they'll do cooking competitions based on pizza, cookies, crapes. We made every possible way you can make eggs. So we've done all different types of competitions and then the staff in the building are the judges. So we have papers that we write down our notes on and a part of the competition is that they have to add a healthy ingredient to the recipe that wasn't in the original recipe. So we judge them based on that and based on flavor and everything like that.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: One day we spent an entire day from 8.00am to 2.00pm just tasting pizza all day long. Staff got pretty tired off it by the end of the day. But it's really fun and interesting to see what they kind of come up with. They learned how to make hummus and the eggs came from, we took a field trip to Vital Farms which is an egg processor here in Springfield where they process six million eggs a day.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: So we took all the students on a field trip to see that whole process and then they donated close to 400 eggs to our program, so then the students have the opportunity to experiment with all the types of ways to make eggs.

KAYTE YOUNG: But you said you have chickens here?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We do, yes. The students hatched out chickens this year. They're not laying just yet.

KAYTE YOUNG: They're not laying hens yet, okay.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes, exactly. They hatched out 17 chickens, they're all straight rooms so we don't know exactly what we're going to get with them all. But we just this week transitioned them to our outdoor coop. So they were in a brooder in the class rooms and we were bringing them into the courtyard and letting them run around during the day like we do the with the rabbits, but they're big enough now that we've transitioned them to the chicken coop outside.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Do you want to take a look in the classrooms?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: This is one of the two fourth grade classrooms and you'll notice there's a garage door that opens and closes between the two so they have the opportunity to co teach or teach separately depending upon the time of the day. And you'll notice there's a tower garden in each of our classrooms, so each teacher manages just their own tower garden which is an aeroponic growing system, we mostly use to grow lettuce, leafy greens and herbs and the students will harvest that and then they will clean it and then they serve it to the other students for lunch generally.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We've sold some our lettuce to some of the parents in Carline. We have also given it away to the parents in the car line.

KAYTE YOUNG: What do you mean by car line, just coming to pick up their kids?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes, exactly. When they come and pick up the kids, we'll have a sign out there that says, 'hey we've harvested lettuce today, if you want some let us know and we'll bring some out to you.'

KAYTE YOUNG: Let us know.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Right, exactly. We also have one of our towers, they grow primarily for food for the our livestock. We have two guinea pigs, two rabbits and a bearded dragon. So they grow green specifically for them as well.

KAYTE YOUNG: That must feel so great for them to know that they're growing something for the animals that they love.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes, exactly. So we're looking into the fifth grade classroom and you'll notice they are all kind of set up the same. You'll also notice each of the classrooms has a different colored accent wall. So the four colors represent the four seasons. Orange is going to be fall, yellow is going to be summer, green is going to be spring and blue is going to be winter.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Like I mentioned, the building is in the shape of a sundial. The intent for those colors for those rooms are that those rooms will capture light during those particular seasons.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: This is our rabbit hutch. The students wield that in and out of the classroom each day and allow the rabbits to run around. You can see one of the rabbits.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: I'm not sure where the other one is, but there should be two of them out there running around and the guinea pigs are going to be in this enclosure here which we didn't know until after we got guinea pigs that they are technically an FFA show animal. They also did research and found out that guinea pigs are not supposed to be solo, you should have a companion for them. After we were gifted the first one, the teacher decided she needed to go out and buy another one. So now we have two guinea pigs and their names are Rodney, of course, from Dr Dolittle and the other one the students named Dwayne the guinea pig Johnson.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: You'll notice all the house plants around the building as well. The students maintain all the houseplants in the building except for the ones that are a little bit too high. But you can look at some of these art projects.

KAYTE YOUNG: We approached a wall with a line of small trifle presentations. There are projects on the Carolina reaper pepper, soy beans, apple trees, pumpkins, corn.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: So they do all kinds of research, where it grows, we have nutrition facts, what you can use them for, how long it takes to get to harvest, all kinds of stuff that the students will require to do research for and they made this art project.

KAYTE YOUNG: What I love too is that it's just made with a file folder. So you don't have to get the big old giant thing that you're wielding around and you never know where to put it when you're done. This is like they can just put it in with their other school work.


KAYTE YOUNG: And yet it really works as a trifle. It's beautiful.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: It looks nice doesn't it?

KAYTE YOUNG: It looks really good.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We have some really amazing artists here too.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yes, you definitely do.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We're looking right now out at the chicken coop. The students are checking the food and the water, making sure that they have everything that they need to make it through another day and they have the garden shed right next to the chicken coop and if you take a look out here you can see our garden over there as well. We don't have a lot in it just yet for the year. We have a couple of things planted out there, but the students built those raised beds with the wood and the corner stone pavers. The students helped mulch the area and they do all the planting and assist in watering as well and once we have something to harvest they will be doing the harvesting too. And we have a long term plan of hopefully getting goats some day as well. We're wanting to expand all of our agriculture practices. On arbor day we're going to be planting our first fruit tree. So we're beginning our orchard on arbor day this year.

KAYTE YOUNG: Is this a fairly new facility?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes, this is the first year.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We had summer school here this year and so we had students start in June and those were the earliest students we had here and then this is the first full year that we've had here.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: This is the sixth grade classrooms. You'll notice one of them is green and one of them is blue with the intent to capture light in the different rooms at the different times of the year. You also notice the ceiling is getting taller as we go around. That is intentional for the building and the ceilings to grow with the students as they get older. So they start in fourth grade with the lowest ceiling and with the highest ceiling toward sixth grade.

KAYTE YOUNG: That's awesome. I love all these architectural metaphors.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Oh yes and all the rock that's on the outside of the building, it was intentionally selected by the designer of the building because it reminded him of his father's farm of which his father is Bill Dar. His foundation donated the money for this building as well as the money for my farm to school program.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: So everything that I do is all entirely funded by a private grant currently.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: This is the science lab which currently hasn't been used that much for science, but our sixth graders are required to have a laboratory setting. So our sixth graders will certainly use it, but we have also used it for technology class, for music class, for art class, for a number of a different classes we've used this space and you can see the 3D printers even working as we're talking back there.

KAYTE YOUNG: Oh I see that.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes, so our students have different jobs throughout the days. So we have some students that care for the rabbits. There's some students that care for the chickens. There's some students that care for the greenhouse. There's some students that help clean up generally each morning and there's one student I believe that's generally in charge of making sure that that 3D printer is running all the time. So they almost always have something printing and it could be little tchotchkes that they give away for good behavior in the school or I'm in the process of talking to our IT teacher to get him to make some plant tags for us for our garden so we can custom Ag academy plant tags that will go out in our garden. So that's our science lab here.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Next we will work our way into our greenhouse.

KAYTE YOUNG: That's Kendall Slaughter, farm to school coordinator for the Springfield Public School District in Southern Missouri. We're on a tour of the Ag Academy and after a short break, we'll head into the greenhouse to see what's growing and to hear about how the young students learn to care for the different plants. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Kayte Young here. This Earth Eats.

KAYTE YOUNG: My guest is Kendall Slaughter, the farm to school coordinator for an entire school district in Southern Missouri. We're on a tour of the Ag Academy, one of their magnet schools with a focus on food and farming. We are now entering the onsite greenhouse.

KAYTE YOUNG: Oh it's right here.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes. So our greenhouse is very close, very accessible. I apologize, it's a little bit dirty on the floor. But it's a working greenhouse.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: So you'll notice all of the seedling tray started down there and those are all going to be a part of our plant sale. We have all the herbs, we have several different types of tomatoes, different types of peppers, lemon grass, all kinds of really interesting and fun products for us to grow. We have double flowered datura and we have echinacea and we're hopefully going to be selling some populus and persimmons. All kinds of weird different stuff we've got going on here and the students have started the majority of the plants we have here. And you notice we have two fabric raised beds, that we have planted in here and we don't have them on anymore, but over the winter we had these grow lights set up so that we can be growing a crop all the way through the winter. So we have perfect climate conditions in here maintained with the heater and fans and a vent fan. We have our irrigation set up to maintain our seedlings and we have a whole bunch of grow lights set up to extend our growing season and just give them a little bit more light so we jump start them in the spring or continue them in the fall.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: I see you looking down at our plant tags and we have a number of different colored plant tags. So if you walk with me down here you'll notice on our door we have our Ag academy watering guide by color. So we have different colored plants tags. Generally at this point it's for the house plants that are in the building because right now everything is using quite a bit more water so we're watering most everything daily in the greenhouse.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: You'll see green is for every day. Blue is Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Yellow's Tuesday, Thursday and red is Monday only which is generally plants that aren't using nearly as much water like succulent or some of our house plants.

KAYTE YOUNG: I love it, it's just like you've set up all the systems to make this doable for them and to teach them what it's like to work in a professional setting, because all of the irrigation and stuff.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Absolutely. We're trying to do it as professionally as possible while including the kids and so we use high quality potting mix and you'll notice several of our crops that are in these raised beds are even pretty close to the harvest.


KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We have a cucumber that's probably four inches long. We have broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage. Calendula, marigolds, radishes, all kinds of different things planted in these raised beds and they seem to be doing pretty well. So we've been pretty happy with it so far.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: The students come in daily. They water daily and during this time of the year, they're watering even twice a day sometimes for some of the seedlings that we're trying to get going for our plant sale.

KAYTE YOUNG: Oh I see they've got some sweet potato slips started too.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes, that's exactly right and they just started producing maybe a week ago.

KAYTE YOUNG: And so some of the stuff will get planted out in your garden but most of it is for the plant sale?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Correct, yes. A lot of it will get planted out in our gardens but we have nine raised bed gardens currently. Hoping to expand in the future, but we probably have three to 400 tomato plants started. So that's quite a bit more than we're actually going to need here. We'll pull whatever plants the students really want to plant out there. We'll give them the option to plant and then whatever is left will get sold at the plant sale.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: So we'll probably end up, if I had to guess, maybe end up selling some of the succulents as well. All of these pots down here. These are all seeded with pawpaws. We did a pawpaw tasting last fall, so all of the students that wanted to, I think we only had one decline to taste it. All 100 students had the opportunity to taste pawpaw in the fall. They saved 289 seeds from that and we had the students start all these seeds and I'm just now as we're talking about noticing the first signs of life that I hadn't noticed yet. They seeded these in February and we are just now starting to see a couple of them emerge from the ground. So they're very slow to grow.

KAYTE YOUNG: My understanding is that pawpaws and persimmons need that cold temp or something.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Correct, exactly. We did our taste test in October. The students saved all those seeds. We put those seeds with some moist potting mix in a zip lock bag and put it in the refrigerator and we set a date on it for February first to pull it out and we pulled them out and started them then. So we did simulate a winter by giving them that cold stratification that they require.

KAYTE YOUNG: And now they're starting. That's really excited.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: I was honestly a little bit nervous that a few of them had gotten too dry. But we certainly have some that are growing, so that's very exciting.

KAYTE YOUNG: I see another one there too. Even if you just get a few it's going to be exciting.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Exactly and you'll notice, they don't really have any plant labels. Everything else has a kind of plant labels and what the students have started, they generally like to put their names on their plants and they want to know which ones are theirs. We intentionally did not do that with these pawpaws and the reason is, we don't know exactly what we're going to do with them yet. I don't know if we're going to try and sell them, don't know if we're going to plant a few of them here, don't know if we're going to give them away, send them home with students and pawpaws naturally have about a 50 or 60% germination rate.

KAYTE YOUNG: So you don't want anyone to feel bad.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Exactly. I didn't want to discourage anybody by them thinking that they didn't do something right when I was here and watched them and all of them planted it just right. We only expect to get maybe about 100 of them to actually grow. So I didn't want anybody to be discouraged.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yes, that's really a smart way to do it is to let them know ahead of time, this isn't going to be a failure if half of them don't grow. That's going to be a success.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Right and my personal motto is that there aren't failures in gardening just experience, just learning opportunities, right? So, even if they don't grow, and that's what I try to reiterate to a lot of the kids that we may plant it out and we may have vandalism. Somebody might come through and rip our plants out and we can't do anything about that. Nothing we can do to prevent that. Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes we have a bad storm and hale destroys our peaches. You can't control everything. It's all in an experiment and it's all an opportunity to learn.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Would you like to walk out and see the chicken coop closer? It sounds like it's getting ready to start raining. But maybe we can avoid that.

KAYTE YOUNG: Not raining yet.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Excellent. We'll walk by the rabbit hutch and get a better eye on it.

KAYTE YOUNG: We peaked into the handsome rabbit hutch and saw one of the rabbits nestled inside.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: One of our fourth grade teachers, Sarah Ward built it with her husband. The other one is a little bit more adventurous. We let them just run around the school occasionally and we will find her all the way down the hall. They try to keep her in the classroom and if nobody's paying attention she'll jump out of the room and run all the way down the hallway and has made it almost all the way to the front desk before anybody realized where she was.

KAYTE YOUNG: I was going to ask, you said that they'll go round up the rabbits before it's time to leave. They're usually around here and easy to find?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Oh yes. The court yard is fenced in, so they can't get out. They're stuck in here. Usually it's take a couple of them to corner the rabbits before they're able to actually get them. We'll go out this door here.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We talked about the tower gardens a little bit. We currently have 40 of them in our district across early childcare all the way through high school and our alternative center. The farm to school program has a presence in the majority of schools in Springfield public schools.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We have about 26 in ground gardens. We have five unheated high tunnels, four heated greenhouses that are currently in use and then like I said, we have 40 tower gardens district wide. And the majority of what's grown in the tower gardens is used either in the classroom or gets sent home with students and same with the produce that comes out of the gardens. It usually goes home with students. Sometimes there's enough to donate and occasionally they've had enough to be able to sell.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Right here on our right is our garden beds. Our irrigation is under construction right now, we had some vandalism last spring and they kind of destroyed some of our irrigation so we're in the process of redoing the irrigation so it kind of looks like a mess. But you can see we have little radishes coming up. We have onions that have been planted. Those three beds in the back are for wild flowers so we have pollinator opportunities as well. Peas on that far end. Potatoes on these really large raised beds.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Following the vandalism, we decided to put up this fence. We also have a pretty healthy coyote population around here. I came in one morning about 6.30 and saw two coyote pups running out of the garden carrying some of my irrigation.


KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Right? I'm guessing they were just playing around, but I don't know.

KAYTE YOUNG: Didn't know what it was.


KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We have 17 chickens. If I'm being honest, I'm not sure what breed they are. We can ask the teachers.

KAYTE YOUNG: They're quiet.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: They are very quiet right now aren't they?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: But the students have really enjoyed watching them hatch and helping raise them from chicks. They just today completed, they broke into groups of four and we're all making a documentary style informative video about different processes of raising chicks. Some of them spoke about candling, some of them spoke about the actual hatching process, how to create a brooder, things like that. What types of feed to use. So they've all created different documentary style videos that will be presented.

KAYTE YOUNG: Well their coop looks very well cared for. They look like very happy animals.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We hope that they are and hope they continue to be happy. But like I said, we have room to expand back here. We're going to be planting our fruit tree orchard soon, maybe expanding our gardens. We've talked about a high tunnel potentially back here. We're all working currently with MSU to put a high tunnel in front of the school that we will partially manage and Emma, she will partially manage. So we'll use some of that space. But if we get to a point where we're really growing a whole lot of produce and we might need to expand, we have room to put a high tunnel in back here as well.

KAYTE YOUNG: Okay. I like how the classrooms look out onto this so they kind of keep the chickens in mind.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Exactly, keep an eye on it all the time.

KAYTE YOUNG: And they've got these hummingbird feeders.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Exactly. Much of the landscaping is done with either natives or edible crops. So you'll notice in the front we have a row of strawberries right in the front and in the back is elderberries. We have edible crops as well and then the students planted tulips around a bunch of the trees. We had tulips donated from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company and as well as the majority of our seed. We housed the seed bank for the school district here and I guess I didn't show that to you. But we have the seed bank here and Baker Creek has donated massive amounts of seed to the Farms to School program. If I had to guess probably 30,000 packets something like that. They have been very generous.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: This is part of the reward system that they have set up and that they give what they call choice tickets. Choice is an acronym and each letter stands for a quality that they exhibit. When they exhibit that quality they're given a choice ticket and they collect their choice tickets and they're able to exchange them for whatever is on that card. Some of them are some of the 3D printed things. A bug habitat, a bug net. It looks like there's slime, there's all kind of interest in them. They stand for caring, honor, openness, integrity, collaboration and effort. That's what choice stands for.


KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Based on those they receive tickets and they can exchange those tickets for little tchotchkes and stuff.

KAYTE YOUNG: At this point, the principle walked through the all purpose room and Kendall introduced us.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes, so she's the principle over all of the choice programs. She travels in between all the schools. I also didn't mention our wolf program which is out of the best pro shop. It's all entirely outdoors centered, so the students there learn about wild edibles and they have the opportunity to hunt and learn how to clean their own animals, they go fishing. Anything outdoors, they're all about that.

KAYTE YOUNG: So it's kind of like a wildlife thing?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Exactly. That's pretty much the whole building here.

KAYTE YOUNG: It seems like a good time for a quick break. When we come back, I'll sit down with Kendall to learn about his role as the school garden coordinator for all of the schools in the district. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: This is Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young and we're talking with Kendall Slaughter, the Farm to School coordinator for the Springfield Public Schools in Missouri.

KAYTE YOUNG: After our tour of the new Ag Academy for fourth, fifth and sixth graders, I asked Kendall to tell me more about his role in the larger school district.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: My office is housed here but I work district wide. So I work all of the schools in the district that have any kind of gardening, farming, local food related activities. I'm happy to help promote what they have going on or give them any kind of advice or help in anyway.

KAYTE YOUNG: So how does the school garden program work? Is it integrated into the school academics or is it usually an after school program or does it just vary from school to school?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: It definitely varies from school to school. Many teachers will utilize the school garden as a part of their curriculum. Many teachers will use the school garden as just kind of a safe space for students if they need a minute to kind of calm down. Holland Elementary is really good about that that if they have a student that's having a behavior they're able to go out into the court yard, kind of collect their thoughts, calm down a little bit. They have different kind of stations there that they can have things they can do. But it really varies depending on which site.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Central High School has a really active garden club. They meet twice a week for an hour and a half and over the summer they meet twice a week for four hours.

KAYTE YOUNG: It's after school the club is?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Correct, yes. The club is after school. It really varies depending upon the teacher that's kind of in charge of that garden which in our district we call them garden champions. My job is to give the garden champions what they need to make their garden successful. I'm happy to come in and work with their students, work with them, provide them with any kind of support that they need to make it successful.

KAYTE YOUNG: Are there resources available for material supplies if they're needed and that sort of thing?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes, I have a relatively small budget to work with for the entire district. But like I said earlier, my entire program is funded by a private foundation grant. Right now the district isn't paying for me to be here but I'm hopeful that the will in the near future. The grant money runs out in about May of 2025. The team that I've been working with have been working really hard to get Farm to School on our salary schedule so that they district will start to budget for my program once the grant money runs out and we've successful done that. We are now officially on the salary schedule and I've been told that that's not a small feat so I should be pretty proud of that.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yes, I mean I think one of the reasons I was so interested in talking to you is that in our community we have tried to kind of get some kind of garden farm to school program or some kind of garden program in the school district because what we've noticed is the schools that do have garden programs, it's usually dependent on a few super enthusiastic parents and then once their kids leave the school then they leave the garden and the garden's not there anymore. Or maybe there's a teacher or two who's really into it but they kind of get burnt out because they've got all this other stuff they have to do and so it just feels like it's really hard to sustain it unless the district puts some kind of energy into it, some kind of resource and a garden coordinator it seems like.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Absolutely. I think some kind of garden coordinator is essential to make it work if we're talking about a district wide level. A good place to start, our district started with a USDA Farm to School Grant. So they kind of got everybody's interest going and then we received this grant. But I'm hopeful that our district and our new super intendant will see the impact that the Farm to School program is having district wide. I've got a very good feedback and become much more busy in the last couple of months now that people are kind of learning that I'm here and I can provide them the support that they need when they need it.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We have a lot more people interested in continuing. Before they thought they didn't have a lot of support because of what you just said right? They probably don't depending on which school it is. But there's also a lot of really good funding streams out there to help get it going. There's all kinds of grants that can be applied for and you can also ask local businesses to help support. We've gotten massive donations, like I said, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. We have gotten donations from Lowes and from home depot. There's many different ways the school gardens are managed and funded and trying to get it started is the biggest part. Once you get it started, it starts rolling really quickly.

KAYTE YOUNG: To me it just seems like even that is not enough. If you really wanted a program in every school for instance or in, say it was every high school or say it was elementary school or something, just having it where it's maintained enough that the different teaches could use it if they wanted without necessarily having to get out there and do all of it. The things that I noticed were that some of the barriers weren't just the materials or the seeds or whatever, it's really the time.


KAYTE YOUNG: It's the time and the dedication and time plus know how, like knowing how to maintain it and what is needed and setting up work days or setting up all that stuff.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Exactly and so a part of not knowing exactly what to do, I can help support that. I write a monthly newsletter for all of our garden champions in the district and I say 'hey this month you should think about planting this. Don't plant this yet it's too early or you know what I'm saying, or if you do plant this out, be ready to cover it if we get a frost. Make sure these plants need this much water for this amount of time, things like that. We're having a training this Saturday, make sure you come to the training if you want to learn more about working in the garden with your students,' things like that.

KAYTE YOUNG: That is perfect. Yes, just having one person who kind of has their eye on what's going on and is communicating.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Right and the more people involved the better. The more support we have in an individual school site, the better that school garden looks. Our best looking school garden in the district currently has two garden champions at the school that are there two times a week every week that they can rely upon each other so that if one can't be there, the other will make sure that they are to continue.

KAYTE YOUNG: And the fact that they keep that up over the summer is amazing.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Exactly and I think that's a big part of why their garden looks so good is because they're using a garden club rather than using it as a part of their curriculum. Some of our teachers don't have a garden club but use it as a part of their curriculum. Some of the students in their class have no desire to be in the garden so they see it as a chore. They have to get out and go into the garden. So they're definitely not going to support the garden over the summer, right? By having a garden club, you get those kids that really want to be in the garden. They're the ones that are willing to make the effort to be there twice a week every week all the way through the summer and really make their garden a show case piece for the district and they've done a good job doing that.

KAYTE YOUNG: That is amazing, I love that and that is one of the other inherent problems of the school garden is that there's the summer and the summer is when it needs the most water, when it needs the most kind of tending.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Exactly and that's why we have invested so much into these tower gardens as well because those can be in a classroom, you don't have to leave the classroom, the student still get the opportunity to interact with plants, they still get the science behind how to grow a plant, they have to mix the nutrients that go into the base that feeds the plants, they have to make sure it's filled with water, to make sure the light timer is set correctly and then harvest them and what to do with the harvest after that. Like I said, we have 40 of those tower gardens in the district and every year we're buying more and every year we have more and more teachers interested in using one of those tower gardens and not even necessarily regular classroom teachers. I'm getting receptionists asking for one for the front office. I'm getting librarians asking for ones for their library. I'm getting cafeteria workers asking for some for their cafeteria. I'm absolutely in support of all of those. Let's have everybody have a garden.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: The more people we can have involved, the more successful the garden will be. We generally encourage more than one teacher to be present in the garden, but we can't always expect that at each site. So the better funded schools generally will have better support financially and otherwise. It really kind of varies the support and the district really varies quite a bit depending upon which school site we're at.

KAYTE YOUNG: If you could have exactly what you wanted, like just your dream for the district and gardening, what would you want?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Well first would be more employees. It's becoming challenging for me able to keep up with everything that I need to get done. So more employees would be number one. I also have a vision of starting what I'm calling SPS farms because part of my job is to help procure local produce as well that goes into the cafeterias. But there aren't any producers in our area that are growing to a scale that will significantly impact our buying of produce. We use a nutrition services management company and through that management company, I recently learned it's not a requirement but they strongly encourage farmers to be gap certified which is good agricultural practices through the USDA and believe it or not, real Missouri farmers aren't interested in inviting the Federal Government onto their property to tell them what they're doing right and wrong. So they're aren't many gap certified farms in Missouri in general. We don't have a whole lot of options of people to buy from.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Springfield Public Schools is one of the largest property owners in the city of Springfield. A lot of that property is maintained by a mower. So if instead of mowing those green spaces, we used some of that space to create really large gardens and funnel all that produce that's grown directly into our cafeterias, the cost that we're going to have is going to be negligible. The cost that we would have would end up being just salaries. We would be able to get seed donated to our program. We can get wood chips and compost donated and delivered. All we need to pay for is transportation of the produce.

KAYTE YOUNG: And the labor.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: And the labor to do it and water. We would need to pay for water of course.

KAYTE YOUNG: Maybe cold storage.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes, cold storage. But a lot of our schools have cold storage. If we can get all that produce to individual schools, so we have somebody that's transporting the produce and a couple of people that are maintaining that garden, that's my big vision is creating a SPS farms.

KAYTE YOUNG: And that would also be another kind of laboratory for this school, for the other schools to come visit and see like here's a working farm at a little bit larger scale than your school garden.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Absolutely, yes. It would be open to any students in the district to come and see how it's done, they can come and help, they can volunteer. We could even host other schools coming to ours for professional development opportunities. They can learn from us how the right way to do it for their school is. How they can grow a large amount of produce that goes directly into their cafeteria.

KAYTE YOUNG: And you could run things like volunteer days and stuff because I think people really get a lot of enjoyment out of being in a garden when they don't have one in their own yard or whatever just to be like, yes we go out once every two weeks and we help in this garden.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Right and even more to that, if they're benefiting children, even more people are interested in that, right and if the children are out there working in the garden with them and learning with them, even more interest in that right? So I think the opportunity is there, I just need to get myself in front of the right person that believes in my vision and willing to help me invest in that.

KAYTE YOUNG: And you're right, it's staffing that would be the most important thing.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes. So we haven't been able to purchase much produce for the district. We do a couple of taste tests that come from local farmers, but we are also serving local beef in all of our high schools. All of our high schools utilize local ground beef for all of their tacos, sloppy Joe's, anything that is ground beef is local at the high schools. We do still buy frozen burger patties that are not local, but all of the rest of the beef is local.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: So we have made baby steps in the right direction. We go through show me beef and that is a coop of many smaller local farmers and they all come together and we buy from show me beef, right? So it's not big factory farms, it's a small coop. A long time coming. A lot of conversation have been had and I certainly did not do that alone. It was very much our nutrition services department that has helped out massively with making that happen.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yes, if you have them on board, if they're interested too, that's what you need.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Absolutely and they are on board. What we have to find is the right price point for the right amount of produce and that's our biggest hang up, being the largest school district in the state of Missouri, we serve about 25,000 meals a day. Grandpa's ten cords of tomatoes is not going to make an impact unfortunately. I would like to buy that, but if we were to start buying from many smaller local farms, we would need at least one person full time coordinating all of those purchases from so many different places.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yes I can see that and I also know just from experience that, like one time I was involved in a school garden and we didn't grow a lot, but at one point there was a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes and they were able to put them in the salad bar and the pride that they felt of our tomatoes are in the salad bar, like they just felt like they were really contributing.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Absolutely. We've had bumper crops of sweet potatoes, of lettuce. We've put some of our SPS cilantro onto our taco bars. Like we said earlier with the tower gardens, the students here at the Ag Academy plant the tower gardens, they maintain the tower gardens, they harvest the tower gardens, they clean the lettuce, they serve the lettuce to the other students and so they are entirely doing the process. There will be a teacher there making sure that everything gets done correctly, but they are doing the process themselves entirely.

KAYTE YOUNG: How does it seem like that affects them?

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Oh they love it. Anytime that it's tower garden planting day, I have ten, 15 students come up to me, 'oh Mr Slaughter, can I use my recess to help you with the tower gardens today?' They're willing to give up their recess time to help with the tower gardens.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: My biggest take away I would say is there always needs to be more people involved and our society has gotten so far disconnected from where their food comes from that if we can begin with the students, start with children teaching them how to grow food, they will be much more interested in where their food comes from as they get older and I think that's a very important part of the process.

KAYTE YOUNG: That actually just brings up a question that I had when you first told me that there was this choice program and that Ag was one of the choices that students are applying for and hoping to get chosen and that sort of thing. And I think in my own mind I'm like how many kids are really going to be interested in agriculture? But then when I'm here I'm seeing how much fun it is and especially seeing the kitchens and seeing that cooking is so much a part of it, I just know that kids usually love to cook and they love to be outside and with animals and stuff, but I think when you say just the word agriculture it may not necessarily sound that exciting, but then when you see what it involves.

KAYTE YOUNG: Exactly and we've last summer gave the students the chance to have what we were calling an experience which we'll have in a couple of weeks from now as well. Second graders from five different elementary schools are going to get bussed here to see what it looks like during the day. They'll get the opportunity to plant some seeds. We're going to walk down to Pinniger arena and they're going to be able to pet a horse and we'll have the Hillcrest High School FFA students bring over some sheep and some goats that the students will be able to interact with. So they'll get to see all the really fun and exciting aspects of agriculture and hopefully that will motivate even more students to want to apply and want to come here.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: But I would say on average, I don't know exactly the numbers, but I would say a couple of hundred students apply for the choice programs annually.

KAYTE YOUNG: So once they see what it looks like, they're like oh, I think I want to do that.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Exactly. You're telling me I get to learn how to make crapes at school? Yes, I want to do that.

KAYTE YOUNG: Could you say just a few things about why or how the cooking part is integrated into the Ag program.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Sure, yes. We mention the tower garden lettuce that they get to use and those raised beds in the greenhouse that are currently growing produce. So that produce will come out and get added to a recipe that they make in the future. Maybe we'll add the cucumbers onto a salad or maybe we'll just do a taste test with them separately. We also did a field trip to High V, where we had their dietitian show us around each section of High V and then we gave them a scavenger hunt of trying to find all these different foods in the building and you have to write down what aisle that they were found on and then they purchase ingredients for their pizzas and they brought that back to the Ag academy and then they assembled their pizzas and we had our pizza competition.

KAYTE YOUNG: Just sounds like it's more kind of a holistic kind of food and farming program. Our food studies program where you're learning how things are made and then like you said, the roots, shoots and fruits. That's understanding the different parts of the plants and on different plants we eat different parts.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Yes, exactly. It's all a part of the process and seeing from seed to harvest quite literally the entire process. We try to encourage the students to be as adventurous as possible here. A phrase that I learned from one of the conferences I went to that I'm instilling deeply in these children is that we do not yuck someone else's yum and by that I mean, if you like what we just tried, hey that's great. If you don't like it, that's totally fine too. What's not okay is for you to go, 'ooh Kayte, you like that, that's so gross.' We're not making people feel bad about what they taste if they like it. It's okay to like something and it's okay to not like something and I think that's a very, very important part of the process. So we try to give them the opportunity to try a lot of different things that they might not otherwise.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We did a roots, shoots and fruits lesson and a part of that lesson was them getting to taste, I think we had six different types of radishes and a couple of different types of carrots and a couple of different types of turnips. So they students got the chance to try all these different things and then kind of rate it yes or no if you like it or you don't like it. We grow an annual tropical tree in our greenhouse that's called moringa that's one of the most nutrient [UNSURE OF WORD] and the students really love getting to taste that.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: We had a family night several months ago where the students were able to give their parents a tour of the building and they would go through the greenhouse and my understanding was that the majority of them that brought their parents through the greenhouse were like, 'you have to try Mr Slaughter's tree' and the parents were like 'what,' and some of the parents are a little bit wary and maybe even yucking their kids yum and then I heard the kids would set them straight and say 'don't make fun of me for liking this and so it's getting through to them.'

KAYTE YOUNG: Well this is great, thank you so much for talking with me.

KENDALL SLAUGHTER: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Kendall Slaughter, the Farm to School Coordinator for the Springfield Public Schools in Southern Missouri. You can learn more about their programs on our website,

KAYTE YOUNG: That's it for this week's show. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.

KAYTE YOUNG: The Earth Eats team includes Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Shemenhauer, Payton Whaley and Harvest Public Media. Special thanks this week to Justine Lines, Kendall Slaughter and everyone at the Ag Academy.

KAYTE YOUNG: The show is produced and edited by me, Kayte Young. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from Universal Production Music. Our executive producer is John Bailey.

A guy in a cap and thick glasses standing next to a white tower with various leafy green an white tubes radiating out. the background is a white wall with a doorway to the right.

Tower gardens in classrooms (and even hallways) is one of the ways that Kendall Slaughter brings gardening into the schools. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“Society has gotten so far disconnected from where their food comes from, that if we can begin with the students, start with children, teaching them how to grow food, they will be much more interested in where their food comes from as they get older. I think that’s a very important part of the process”

This week on the show, we talk with Kendall Slaughter, he’s the farm-to-school coordinator for Springfield Public Schools in Southern Missouri.

Join us for a tour of The AgAcademy a 4th-6th grade school within the Choice program at SPS that teaches Missouri Learning Standards through the lens of agriculture.

We meet the bunnies and the chickens and hear about how the school system is building a sustainable school garden program and moving towards local food sourcing in school lunches.

Music on this episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Earth Eats

Harvest Public Media