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January 2, 2009
As a part of the President’s food safety initiative Food and Nutrition Services proposes the following pilot program for school gardens. School gardens teach team work, promote good food safety and hygiene practices and promote a strong sense of responsibility and community. Students learn how to initiate and follow through on a project, follow directions and have a visible marker of their efforts. The food may then be prepared and consumed by the students at lunch. This would be an addition to the menu not as a substitute for any item. It could also open opportunities for school and community involvement for harvest sales involving items such as gourds or decorative corn.
This type of learning experience could easily include visits and training from local growers. Food history and nutrition could provide cultural and educational links to various cultures and countries. Health and hygiene training would provide life skills which would enhance quality of life while improving health and weight control issues facing current society. Science would be a natural compliment to this type of program.
These guidelines are from the USDA/FDA Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. There is also collaboration with the local environmental health dept. authorities.
- Site preparation: Do not use fresh or un-sterilized manure. Organic gardens are not encouraged due to the difficulty of insuring that the source of compost or other fertilizer has been effectively treated to eliminate contaminates such as e. coli. Be aware of underground water pipes, electrical cables or gas mains. In order for produce to be consumed by children the soil must be tested for lead.
- Building Materials: Do not use items which can contain toxic materials. This would include railroad ties which contain creosote a carcinogen; treated lumber which contains the poison cyanide; or old tires which can leach petroleum products into the soil.
- Site security: The area needs to be located so as to discourage entry by unauthorized persons and animals. Adequate fencing would help to insure this.
- Fertilization: Heat treated manure. Do not use any product that can not verify the safety of treatment.
- Pest control: All products used for pest control must be rated as safe for use on food sources. Again organic products are discouraged.
- Water requirements: Since this is food for consumption the water source must be potable. Water of inadequate quality could be a direct source of contamination or a vehicle for spreading localized contamination. There also needs to be an area for washing the vegetables that is a clean source not recycled, a separate sink area that drains into the municipal drainage system would be ideal. The washing area should be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition.
- Suggested crops: Due to the difficulty of effectively cleaning leafy products, mushrooms and sprouts these are discouraged. Decorative corn, gourds and pumpkins would be recommended for harvest sales while carrots, green beans, zucchini, herbs, certain berry crops and other easily cleaned vegetables would be recommended for meal consumption. Some plants or parts of plants are poisonous, be sure you are planting items that are safe for children to touch or consume.
- Workers: Hygiene and sanitation practices play a critical role in minimizing microbial contamination. Hand washing and shoe cleaning are two of the most important areas to minimize this. Cover wounds of workers with gloves. Do not let anyone with an illness handle food. When harvesting all food contact surfaces need to be maintained in a sanitary condition.
- Kitchen handling: Produce is to be received after an initial washing by the growers and is to be maintained in a separate area. This is to be washed a minimum of two (2) more times before consumption. The produce is to be saved on a separate “Charlie” tray for one week. There should always to be a week of trays on hand. All food from gardens would be served to the students in addition to the menu not in place of a menu item and noted on food production records as such.
- Resources: www.kidsgardening.org www.communitygarden.org www.jmgkids.us http://www.mnh.si.edu/archives/garden/ owl and mouse educational software has free garden software