Looking for ways to introduce new students to the agriculture industry and to gain community involvement and support, Zachary Morris, agricultural educator at West Liberty High School in West Liberty, Iowa, created a farmer to restaurant program. His students grew fresh salsa ingredients for a local Mexican food restaurant.
Morris' students already had commercial growing experience through raising vegetables for their school's lunchroom, so they expanded their operation by growing jalapeño peppers and Roma tomatoes for El Patio Family Mexican Restaurant's fresh salsa. Morris' students ran every aspect of the project, from growing and harvesting the vegetables, to communicating with the restaurant and keeping records of total pounds produced and sold.
In addition to selling their fresh vegetables to the restaurant, the students created table tents for the restaurant to market their agricultural education program with fun facts about El Patio Restaurant, West Liberty FFA, and agriculture, printed in both English and Spanish. Dr. Ryan Anderson, agriculture professor at Iowa State University, worked with Morris on developing ideas and suggestions to continue to move the program forward.
The students' salsa program has continued to grow; this past fall the students conducted a salsa making workshop with elementary students using produce from their garden, integrating the National FFA's Food For All grant and the Nutrients for Life program. The salsa program has even expanded to create unique agriculture-based entrepreneurial and work placement projects for the students, including a community garden project that produces food for a local nursing home and working as servers at El Patio.
"If instructors currently have Farm to School programs they can utilize their garden beds to reach out to community food service businesses to promote growth of locally prepared produce. In addition to promoting diversity within the community; the students can also learn about advertising and making positive business connections," Morris said. "The result of the salsa project has made a tremendous impact on our program. Membership and participation of Hispanic students within the classroom has increased in all courses, especially horticulture."
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