Stories from the Goodman Youth Farm

Thomas, Willy, and Their Kale

When Thomas arrived for his fourth week at the farm, the first thing he did was go check on his kale plant. “It’s growing,” he said. “Is it ready to harvest yet?” Thomas’ five-by-five foot square garden is a part of the Youth Farm’s half-acre of vegetables, and to him, it is the most important part. He planted the kale in June, protected it from the ever-present bunny rabbits, and watched it grow. By his sixth week on the farm, he had so much kale, he didn’t know what to do with it all. Willy, another sixth grader at the farm, had an idea. “Kale chips!” he said, gladly accepting the giant leaves. He raced to the kitchen. “Now where’s that vinegar?” Oil, vinegar, and an array of spices were produced. Willy began sautéing to his heart’s content, adding onions, herbs, and vinaigrette. Soon, the chips were on a plate, which Willy carried around the farm, offering everyone a taste. The crunching of kale and the chattering of middle schoolers continued until the plate was clean, while Willy (and Thomas) beamed with pride. “I think I might go to culinary school and be a chef,” Willy said later that summer. The seed that Thomas planted in his garden produced more than just kale. For the middle schoolers at Community GroundWorks’ Goodman Youth Farm this summer, it produced a sense of self-reliance and accomplishment, an enthusiasm for sharing something valuable, and a window into a magical transformation. As the plant grew, so did the students.

Raya's Cicada

“Look at what I found!” Raya, one of our middle-schoolers, exclaimed during one of our Garden Fit breaks in the apple orchard, “It’s so amazing!” As the other children in the orchard began to crowd around Raya, I walked over to see what all of the commotion was about. Peering over the shoulders of everyone gathered around, I saw it. An adult cicada that had just molted its nymph skin was perched on Raya’s hand. Being a freshly molted adult cicada, the insect’s wings had not yet inflated with fluid, and it wasn’t able to fly away and start its short adult life just yet. We all spent the next few minutes observing Raya’s companion, noting its bizarre, alien-like features. The cicada really did look to all of us to be out of this world. After a few minutes of snapping pictures and reiterating how awesome this bug was, Raya decided she would walk it around and show it off to other groups that were participating in activities on the Youth Farm that day. She walked over to the kitchen, where a group of first-graders were participating in a cooking activity. The children around the cooking tables were equal parts grossed out and intrigued. Some recoiled behind the safety of the tables while those more interested in insects moved in for a closer look. Raya was beaming as she stood showing the insect to the younger children. Raya continued to meander around the farm, making sure that other groups of children and the rest of our Youth Farm staff were able to share in this unique experience. Sooner or later, the time came for us to end our break and resume our activities for the morning. I told Raya that she was going to have to let her new friend go, but she was reluctant to leave him. After assuring Raya that we would find him a spot far away from the stomping feet of many children, we began to look for a spot to put him, settling on a sunny apple tree on the outskirts of the orchard. Raya set him on a branch, and bid goodbye to her new friend. After all of the children had left the farm for the day, I went back over to the tree to see if he was still there, but saw nothing. With his wings completely inflated with fluid and its adult skin hardened, the cicada flew away to begin its short adult life. It was amazing to see such a rare event happen on the farm, and to be able to share this experience with children who were equally as intrigued as I. This is one of the many experiences I’ve had on the farm this year that made it such a special place to learn and grow.

Youth Farm Beekeeping

It's been the summer for bees at the Goodman Youth Farm. The half-acre site not only hosts an organic vegetable farm run by area youth, but is also home to two bustling bee hives. These ladies - mostly ladies, that is - have run such a booming honey business with the flowers of the nearby prairie, farm, and community gardens, that Youth Farm students were able to extract almost five gallons of that delectable liquid earlier this summer. "It was really enjoyable to see the kids harvesting the honey," Youth Farm manager Jennica Skoug said. "They were very careful with the delicate task of scratching off the wax, and worked well as a team. The kids also got really into dipping all sorts of different veggies in the extra honey!" Students at the Youth Farm also get a chance to participate in the "bee" side of beekeeping, many for the first time. "It's really neat to see the students go from being afraid of the bees to totally in love with them," Skoug said. "We had one middle schooler that was particularly nervous, but after about ten minutes at the hive said that she was the calmest she'd ever been in her life. It's amazing the effect they can have." Students enjoyed plenty of honey on the farm, and bottled the remainder to sell. Proceeds from the honey sales will help support the beekeeping program at the Youth Farm. If you are interested in learning more about beekeeping at the Youth Farm, please contact Jennica.

Sweet Potato Harvest

In October, the Goodman Youth Farm brought together over one hundred elementary school students, ten Master Gardener volunteers, three interns, and one UW-Extension agent to harvest over 950 pounds of sweet potatoes for two Madison-area food pantries. The Goodman Community Center's Fritz Food Pantry and the River Food Pantry each received half of the bumper crop, which was planted and tended by Youth Farm students beginning in June as part of Madison's Sweet Potato Project, which aimed to increase the amount of fresh, local food available at Madison food pantries year round. The nutritious orange tubers, which arrived as tiny vine "slips" in the early summer, thrived in the hand-cultivated field, and awaited their final uprooting like a sea full of hidden treasure. Kindergartners from neighboring Kennedy Elementary and second graders from Van Hise Elementary dug and gathered the bulging root bundles with excited smiles and occasional jaw-dropping amazement at the size of what they had just pulled out of the soil. Before the harvest was hauled off to food pantries, however, each student got a taste of the sweet potatoes they had just seen in the ground, grilled into tasty snacks right on the farm - now that's fast food!


High School Students Learn about Agriculture, Cook Fresh Food Feast

 Over 70 students from Madison’s East High School participated in a field day at the Goodman Youth Farm this September, taking part in hands-on farming and outdoor cooking experiences. The simultaneous field trips were designed for East's Urban Agriculture and Advanced Foods classes, respectively. Urban Ag students, who have already learned about compost and soil fertility, helped plant a fall cover crop of oats and peas, and harvested greens, herbs, and peppers for a tasty garden salad mix.  Advanced Foods students were challenged to prepare three different dishes that utilized seasonal Youth Farm produce, beginning with harvesting the needed ingredients from the farm. Both classes also had the chance to participate in the Youth Farm's fall honey extraction--another ingredient in some of the dishes prepared that afternoon. At the end of the two hour trip, the classes came together and enjoyed a feast of grilled stuffed peppers, sun-oven baked apple crisp, and tossed salad with hand-blended tomatillo dressing. There was a celebratory feeling in the air as the greens were devoured, and several students expressed interest in future internships at the Youth Farm. We look forward to seeing much more of East High students at the Youth Farm!


Sugar Creek Elementary and the Amazing Radish!

Students from Sugar Creek Elementary School visited the Youth Farm a total of three times in April and May, which is not typical of most field trip groups during our spring season who usually do a single visit. Something specific that this group had requested to do was to plant, take care of, and harvest the same crop. While most crops generally need much more time to grow from a seed into a mature plant, we had the perfect crop to fulfill this request... the amazing radish! With a maturity time of less than 30 days, we knew that planting and properly caring for radishes would give these students a chance to observe almost the entire life cycle of the plant over a short span of time. During their first field trip, we found the Sugar Creek students to be very inquisitive in regard to the radish. They had a lot of great questions about radishes, including if there were different kinds, how they grew, and what part of the plant is eaten. With these questions in mind, we set to work planting our radishes, covering them up with a thin layer of dirt and giving them a drink of water afterward. On the second field trip, we tackled the mission of thinning and weeding the radishes, an essential task in growing a fully developed and tasty radish. Although the root of the plant was still mostly undeveloped, the greens were happily poking up from the soil to gather energy from the warm sun. The students were surprised to see how much they grew in a short time! We used the radish greens and tiny radishes that we thinned as a garnish in our finger sandwiches we made in the cooking station. On the last field trip that the Sugar Creek students attended we were able to harvest the radishes! The radishes were perfect for harvesting, thanks to the right environmental conditions, good timing, and a bit of luck. The students were absolutely amazed that a fully developed vegetable was able to grow to maturity in such a short amount of time, remembering how small the seeds were when they planted them the previous month. "Oh wow!", one student exclaimed as he pulled a plump, red radish out of the ground, "I've never seen a radish come out of the ground before!" On this last trip, we were able to use some of the radishes we harvested to make a delicious radish mango salsa in the kitchen, and still had many left over that we were able to donate to the Fritz Food Pantry at the Goodman Community Center. This story underlines the world of wonder and amazement that gardening has to offer to children and adults alike!