"Here at San Andreas, they are doing an amazing job with students," said Clara Wilshire, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) Coordinator in San Bernardino County. "They have the agricultural academy where students learn everything from planting to harvesting, and even selling the products."
This exceptional opportunity for the students was born because of the partnership between San Andreas High School and the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE). EFNEP and the Master Gardeners program have brought their workshops about edible nutrition and gardening to the school for ten years. During these years, a strong relationship between the school and the UCCE programs has blossomed.
"We started with teen parenting classes, so Clara Wilshire came to teach our young parents how to make healthy meals and how to eat healthily,” Roberta Figueroa, teacher and coordinator of the Academy of Technical Careers at San Andreas High School in San Bernardino County, pointed out. “Then we started our vocational itineraries. We have a greenhouse with vegetables, and we have a health area, so we continue our partnership with EFNEP and today, our collaboration has also expanded with the Teacher Gardeners program.
Due to the pandemic, life for all Americans changed, and San Andreas was no exception. Nowadays, Clara Wilshire leads her class via the internet to about 1,700 students from kindergarten to high school.
Wilshire teaches them how food helps maintain a healthy life and about portions with MyPlate courses.
During our interview, she went to the greenhouse to pick up the fresh vegetables that she will use for her class. In the greenhouse, the students grow coriander, basil, rosemary, and green leaves for salads such as spinach, lettuces and jalapeño and habanero chiles, and various edible herbs.
For that day's class, Wilshire decided to prepare a vegetarian quesadilla; she fried cold spinach, carrots, and coriander using a drop of vegetable oil. Next, she placed them in a wholewheat tortilla, adding cheese. Finally, she put the tortilla in the pan to heat until the cheese melts.
After seeing how easy it is to make a delicious and healthy snack, the students showed their engagement by asking many questions: Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Is it healthy to eat vegetables in fast-food restaurants? How often can you eat pizza? And Chips?
San Andreas High School is unique because they are one of few places where youths have a second chance to get their GED. It also has advanced agriculture facilities, the greenhouse, and a hydroponic laboratory where students can observe a technique to produce food without the use of soil.
"So, I think this is where academics meet real life and become relevant, and these are lifelong lessons," Figueroa said.
The San Bernardino school district uses these facilities as part of the Farm to School program, where students learn nutrition principles while learning hands-on in agriculture techniques, food management, post-treatment, and food preservation methods.
With a production rate of between seven and nine hundred lettuces being produced every two weeks, there is enough food to share with various non-for-profit organizations. Before the pandemic, they harvested lettuces for school lunches. Currently, they are sold to restaurants and used as ingredients in nutrition workshops such as the one that was recently held.
"We are very excited to work with EFNEP and Master Gardeners. They help us educate our students; they are the experts in the cultivation and preparation of healthy foods," Figueroa said.