The highlight of our fall term trips, so far, is our visit to Randall’s Island Urban Farm. We are delighted to have discovered that this beautiful farm is only 30 minutes from Pono’s indoor space. The children are already talking about how they hope to return to the farm soon!
The approximately one-acre Randall’s Island Urban Farm features 80 raised vegetable beds, four rice paddies, a chicken coop with nine hens, a grains garden, and medicinal plants. The farm also boasts a medley of colorful fruits and vegetables, including Lacinato kale, leeks, purple and green broccoli, lettuce, beans, peppers, cucumbers, squash, several heirloom varieties of tomatoes, eggplant, artichokes, carrots, beets, beans, corn, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Other plants represent a variety of diverse cultures. Curry, tomatillos, bitter melon, shiso, Job’s Tears, cilantro, and Asian greens are part of the farm’s “global” harvest.
The farm’s mission is to create and sustain an organic farm that involves school and summer day camp students in all aspects of farming the garden, as well as preparing, serving, and eating food grown in the garden.
Nick Storrs, the Urban Farm’s manager, welcomed us to the garden and introduced Jared Jaffe and Caspar Hanak, the farm’s seasonal apprentices.
Jared and Caspar invited the children to pick greens to add to a salad for everyone to enjoy at lunchtime. They explained how to harvest plants without pulling out the roots and encouraged the children to sample the greens, including arugula. Roly asked Jared if there is any shiso growing on the farm. The question impressed Jared and he responded that yes, they do grow shiso! While the older students added their salad mix to bright blue baskets, the younger ones kept busy feeding the chickens and experimenting with which leaves the chickens liked best. The younger children also tasted various types of greens and fruits, and they discovered different areas of the farm at their own pace.
After the children harvested a variety of greens for their salad, Jared and Caspar gave them a tour of the rest of the farm. As they explored together, Jared and Caspar shared their knowledge of the farm’s fruits, vegetables, and animals. The children’s natural curiosity led them to ask a number of questions about the farm and to taste much of the farm’s in-season produce. They sampled familiar fruits and veggies but also introduced their taste buds to some new flavors! And they collected more vegetables to add to their salad. The following are some highlights of their exploration.
Tomatoes: Jared asked the children if tomatoes are fruits or vegetables. They knew the answer! Then he asked what makes a fruit a fruit. The children shared their thoughts and then Jared explained that fruit grows from seeds, while vegetables are the other parts of a plant (e.g., roots, stems, leaves). He showed the children the variety of tomatoes growing on the farm, including San Marzano tomatoes, which he said are used to make pasta sauce. The children enjoyed sampling juicy cherry tomatoes and Takota asked for seconds! Jared pointed out tomatoes that had “scars” on them. He explained that these cracks are caused when tomatoes do not get enough rain. After the cracks heal, a scar is left.
Raspberries: The children were happy to pick and sample some late-season raspberries! Zoë was surprised that one of her raspberries was white, but she said it tasted as sweet as the red ones.
Lavender: Jared asked the children why they thought the farm had flowers. He agreed with them when they said flowers make the farm look beautiful, but he added that flowers also attract bees. He discussed the role that bees play in pollination and why they are important to the farm.
Edible flowers: The children sampled nasturtium, an edible flower. It’s a taste they won’t soon forget! Jared explained that the flower would taste sweet at first, and then become hot and peppery. The children all said they were willing to try it, and Jared gave a flower to each of them. They liked the sweet taste at the beginning but were surprised by the spicy aftertaste!
Rice paddies: The Urban Farm has New York City’s only known rice paddies. Every year, when its time to harvest the rice, the farm organizes a Rice Festival for the threshing and winnowing of the rice using traditional methods. Jared showed Sulaf and Zoë what the rice grains look like, and Caspar invited the children to reach into the water and feel how “mucky” it is at the bottom of a paddy. Towa was especially interested in examining the rice plants. Later, as Hinako and Maysaa were exploring the farm, they met EunYoung Sebazco, Randall Island’s horticulture manager. EunYoung showed Hinako the rice paddies as well as myoga, or Japanese ginger. They picked some ginger for Hinako to take home.
Beans and pea shoots: The children picked and sampled beans and pea shoots. Peas are not in season, so Caspar explained that the pea shoots are edible and tasty.
Chickens: Caspar took the children to meet the farm’s chickens. He explained that the chickens arrived in the mail! Zoë held one of the chickens and the children petted it. Caspar showed them the chicken coop. Bodi joined the older children to visit the chickens and was curious about the chicken feed. Caspar showed a handful of the feed to the children and answered their questions about it. He also let the children hold some of the chickens’ eggs. Some of the children wanted to know if there were baby chickens inside the eggs. Caspar told them that since the farm does not have a rooster, the eggs had not been fertilized and so would not have chicks inside them.
Lunch: The children all helped mix the ingredients they picked into a salad, and Jared made a tasty olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. Everyone was ready to eat after a busy morning of harvesting and exploration! There was even a surprise for dessert. Jared brought out an ear of the farm’s popcorn, and the older children helped him remove the kernels. They waited eagerly for the sound of popping from the pan and then enjoyed a crunchy treat. Life on the farm is delicious!