Full Circle Farm Future Finally Coming into Focus

By Melissa McKenzie
Work Daze

The fate of the former Full Circle Farm location on the Peterson Middle School campus is finally coming into focus. On Sept. 21, a second “Community Conversation” between Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) and members of the community was held, and the district shared its plan for the future of the 11-acre site and surrounding area and, again, asked for input on partnerships, volunteer opportunities, educational vision and community access.

At the first Community Conversation, which was held June 1, the district received feedback that it took into consideration as it mapped out its short- and long-term goals for the farm. During that conversation, the community felt partnership opportunities included Boy and Girl Scout projects, healthy soils initiatives, university programs, farmers’ markets and a farm-to-school program. Attendees also wanted to ensure volunteers would still be involved with the farm, the chickens would be kept and district would continue community volunteer days. Educationally, the community’s vision entailed students having access for hands-on learning, soil and water science, beekeeping lessons and also allow vendors to hold classes. Finally, they wanted beekeeping education to be extended to the community, parts of the farm to be used as a meditation space and fruit/vegetable stand, and the farm to host community events, public accessible hours and tours and talks.

“We have some pretty exciting things that carry through with what the community was saying in terms of what they would like to see happen and then structuring it in a way that benefits the students both in an educational way and also on a nutritional way in terms of produce into our schools,” said Andrew Lucia, SCUSD assistant superintendent of school support and district development.

Karen Luna, the district director of nutritional services, said the first phase of the district’s plan entailed hiring a farm consultant, David Tuttle, in July to begin the process of nourishing the soil and preparing it for new crops. Within the next few weeks, Tuttle will plant the first of four allocated crop plots with carrots, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, chard and kale.

In addition to most of the harvested crops being used within the school district or as part of Peterson culinary classes, SCUSD hopes to create revenue-generating programs and events at the farm location: teaming up with Stanford’s summer camp, a fall festival and pumpkin patch starting next year, farm-to-table dinners with chefs within the district, egg sales, outdoor movie nights and you-pick days where the community has the opportunity to help harvest crops.

The district is also continuing to look at ways the farm can serve as an educational resources and according to Kathie Kanavel, SCUSD’s assistant superintendent of educational services, two models have risen to the top. The first, she said is Career Technical Education (CTE) academy or a small high school with the California Partnership Academy where students can obtain specialized education in culinary arts, agricultural science-urban farming, engineering and environmental science/STEM, business and entrepreneurship, construction and energy and utilities. The second model is to use it as a district outdoor lab supporting Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-aligned environmental studies and supporting satellite school-based gardens while having potential summer employment opportunities for high schoolers.

After the district’s presentation, community members were given the opportunity to provide input by ranking suggestions within the four topics (partnerships, volunteer opportunities, educational vision and community access) from the first meeting. Overwhelmingly, the community wanted to maintain their access to the garden and the farm’s native gardens. Science-based education, beneficial insect and animal shelters, beekeeping and having chickens at the farm were heavily favored under education. Under partnerships, the rankings were split between obtaining corporate support—not ownership—of the farm and soil science programs. The community was also interested in having educational instruction for volunteers, corporate volunteer programs and community gatherings at the site.

“It’s a rare opportunity to have 20-plus acres, 25-plus acres out there and we want to make sure that we’re using it in a way that’s in the best interest of the district, the students and the community,” said Lucia.

SCUSD is now working on its master plan—an eight-month process—and building long-range goals, which it will share through its School Days eNewsletter, district website and at Peterson Middle and Laurelwood Elementary schools.

For a video of the presentation and to view the Power Point presentations from both meetings, visit www.santaclarausd.org/farm

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