Last summer I traveled to Puerto Rico to explore the cuisine, flavors and agriculture of the island. One of the major concepts I focused on was the idea of “farm to table” and wanted to use an FFT fellowship to enhance my schools participation in Connecticut’s farm to school program.
While in PR, I got to work along a chef and was taught to make mofong, a Puerto Rican dish made with plantains. I also used the Cardboard Camera app I learned about from an FCS conference before I left to video places I visited and turned the video/photo into a panoramic image with sound. This allowed students to use virtual reality headsets that I got for the classroom and see real life images of the places I visited in Puerto Rico. My travels came to life as students toured the city streets, restaurants and beaches!
Through my experiences I was able to put together some amazing lessons and hands on experiences for my students in our Family and Consumer Science (FCS) classroom. I created a new unit within the Foods of the World course and students learned about Puerto Rico. We spent a couple lessons learning about the island and culture and I now had amazing photos and stories to share from my own first hand experiences. Together, we cooked mofong students so that they could see the ingredients along with kitchen tools and utensils, then students were able to recreate themselves.
One of my favorite things on the island was the fresh fruits and all the farm stands! All of the foods were so flavorful and fresh. Farm to table is an idea that most natives of PR do on a daily basis, as many have their own gardens and there are many farms around the island. Returning from my fellowship, I was so inspired and motivated that a group of students volunteered with me at our community garden. We helped plant, weed and harvest vegetables twice a week. With all of our produce, we then planned and hosted a community dinner to share our experiences in the garden and food with our families, teachers and community members. The week of the dinner all of the garden program kids and students researched recipes and we prepared and cooked in our kitchens at school. We served more than 60 people and my students spoke on their involvement and what they learned. It was amazing! We made fresh pesto sauce over pasta, cabbage, green salad, butternut squash soup, collard greens, pizzas with tomorrow sauce from the garden and toppings and so much more!
The students’ interest continued to grow — now they wanted their own garden at school. Using the experience gained from writing my Fund for Teachers’ grant proposal, I began applying for grants to make it happen and, last spring, we received a grant from Whole Kids Foundation. Just last week, our garden beds were put up and now I can bring farm to table to Washington Middle School! I am so excited to bring this new piece of gardening into my curriculum and will soon be reaching out to see if we can be part of the state’s farm to school program, now that we will be harvesting our own foods.
The entire Fund for Teachers experience has given me a new sense of accomplishment and confidence. Initially, I was apprehensive to submit proposal, in fear that others would not view my idea as a valuable learning experience. I now have no doubt and I can share personal experiences with my students to inspire them. I’m confident and not afraid to take risks — whether that be immersing myself in an unknown area or bringing new ideas into my curriculum. I know that I can help students be more successful and take their own risks. They’ve seen the (literal) harvest of doing so.
Danielle (pictured making mofong on her fellowship) has taught Family & Consumer Sciences at Washington Middle School in Meriden, CT, for ten years. Danielle is always continuing her own education to bring students new, relevant information. She believes all students can learn and strives to help youth achieve independence while becoming productive members of society.