While classrooms remain closed, this metro school program continues to grow and teach students

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SHAWNEE, Kan. — Just before COVID-19 forced schools across the metro to close last Spring, students in the culinary arts department at the Shawnee Mission School District planted an acre and a half of produce. All summer, many of those same students and volunteers worked the fields that are now ready to harvest. 

While classrooms remain closed, the farm fields have become the student’s best teacher. 

“They are picking pumpkins and peppers and okra. It’s all produce that’s going to be utilized throughout our culinary arts program,” Matt Ziegenhorn, Entrepreneurial Leadership Instructor, said.

Just after seedlings were planted last March, COVID-19 closed classrooms indefinitely.  Students volunteered throughout the summer to keep crops growing.  

“It’s an adventure in finding out how to work in these kinds of new and different times.  Classrooms are changing and evolving, and this gives us a great opportunity to get our the kid’s hands dirty,” Ziegenhorn said, whom the kids affectionately call “Ziggy”.

For about 80 culinary students in the district this is where budding chefs become farmers, so that the farmers can emerge as more creative chefs. A farm-to-table restaurant is student Noah Belcher’s dream. 

“We are really learning how to take the food that we are growing and take it right into the kitchen and make something fresh from the farm that’s not from the grocery story. Something that we’ve grown.”

Norah Pieken, who wants to become a baker, finds great benefit in learning firsthand where food comes from.

“You are creating the actual produce and food that’s going into the meals you’re making.”

Alex Garcia is a senior who wants to work in the restaurant industry.  

“It really shows you how hard it is to actually get food.  All the work that goes into getting the produce that you just bought straight from the store.”

The Broadmoor Urban Farm is a tool in the Signature curriculum for Johnson County High School students. A new barn and state-of-the-art greenhouse are also part of the learning process. The student-run Broadmoor Bistro usually provides an opportunity for kids to cook what comes from the fields, but with the bistro closed due to COVID, students and volunteers are taking the produce home to experiment with recipes on their own.

“This is really hands-on learning at its best,” Senior Culinary Instructor Bob Brassard, also known as Chef Bob, said. “They can see where the food is being grown and how it’s being grown. The kids really love the class.”

For the students, working these fields is bearing the fruit of true knowledge through gritty experience.

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