Progress sometimes requires going back. At Community Day School, for instance, an innovative new program is fostering bygone sentiments. In partnership with NextGen:Pgh (the homegrown nonprofit organization which has produced the Squirrel Hill Farmers Market, Squirrel Hill Night Market and Street Stage), CDS is providing students with an agrarian education through outdoor experiential learning.
In a program that launched Sept. 10 and concludes Oct. 15, participating students in grades two through five are studying farming, gardening and historical practices of food purchasing. The program, called CDS Farm Stand, was developed by the school’s Green Team, a parent volunteer group. Through CDS Farm Stand students will learn the Jewish beliefs, practices, stories and traditions related to gardens and farming both by working in the school’s campus gardens and venturing to local sites.
“The CDS Farm Stand program is another way we are sparking innovation in education here at Community Day School and engaging students in hands-on experiential learning,” said Avi Baran Munro, the institution’s head of school.
While the students have already learned much about farming, the program has planted other educational seeds. Two months ago, participating students and their families traveled to Weinberg Terrace to study food history. While engaging in conversation with senior citizens at the residential facility, the students learned about life in Pittsburgh prior to industrial farming and large supermarkets.
“It’s kind of a passion of mine to connect the generations,” said Alec Rieger, founder and executive director of NextGen:Pgh. “It was really amazing to hear how they purchased food.”
As the young students listened, the seniors told tales of traveling to Oakland or downtown Pittsburgh to purchase produce from farmers or hucksters who rode on horse drawn wagons and buggies. Perhaps even more foreign to many students was that once the items were purchased and brought home, there were no refrigerators for storage. The food was placed in iceboxes.
Hearing these stories “was really impactful,” said Rieger. “I was really inspired by it.”
After visiting Weinberg Terrace, the students traveled across Bartlett Street to the Squirrel Hill Farmers Market to participate in a scavenger hunt. Bringing students to the Farmers Market in this capacity enabled them to freshly experience the setting, said Rieger. Additionally, it allowed the seniors and students to re-engage in an outdoor environment.
“The Farmers Market really tied it all together,” he explained. “The residents use it to do laps or socialization. There are a lot of kids out there. It is kind of a platform where all of these communities connect.”
Although initially a site for fun, the Squirrel Hill Farmers Market increased its role within the CDS Farm Stand program. On Sunday morning, Oct. 4, participating students traveled to the Farmers Market to purchase produce. Later that evening, the students cooked dinner with produce both purchased at the Farmers Market and harvested from CDS’ campus gardens.
Finally, on Sunday, Oct. 18, the students will operate their own stand at the Farmers Market. Keeping with a desire to promote healthier and sustainable living, the students will make smoothies on a homemade bike blender. Josh Friedman, a CDS parent who trained and taught at the Teva Institute for Jewish Environmental Education and serves as a USA Cycling Level 2 certified coach, will guide the students through both making and selling the smoothies.
“At what other school can children make smoothies on a bike-powered blender they’ve helped to construct, bring garden-fresh produce they’ve harvested to market, and learn about sustainable agriculture,” said Munro, “all while in a value-rich program that teaches and celebrates Jewish customs and traditions?”
Rieger said that the program might expand beyond just CDS as a partner organization.
“NextGen is psyched to be a part of this and I have a vision to next year incorporate Hillel, Yeshiva, the synagogues, Beth Shalom Preschool,” he said. “I think it’s been special what we’ve created.
“Jewish ecology, environmentalism, food scarcity, food security,” he added, “these are really important issues that aren’t necessarily a part of the curriculum.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.