By Cecily Walters 2013-12-25 00:08:01
This Month’s Guest Alex Elizondo School Nutrition has launched this new column to introduce you to a variety of school nutrition leaders, friends and advocates who are making their voices heard for healthy kids. Meet Alex Elizondo, a recent graduate of Dinuba (Calif.) High School. Elizondo came to School Nutrition’s attention through a reprinted newspaper profile in Poppy Seeds, published by the California School Nutrition Association, which lauded his initiative to link a school farm project with the district’s school meals program. Elizondo, who served as president of his school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA), is a positive example in a district with a 75% free/reduced-price eligibility rate. He is now attending Reedley (Calif.) College, with aspirations to teach agriculture studies. I understand your involvement with the school agriculture operation (including a nursery and greenhouse) meant arriving well before the bell in the morning, staying after classes had ended and coming throughout the summer. That’s quite a commitment as a high school student! There were no boundaries and plenty of opportunities to do something new in our school farm. One thing about agriculture that makes me love it is that it’s hands-on [work] and you can get your hands dirty. It kept me busy, and I loved [the work, as well as] the amazing people I got to meet. How did your connection to the district’s school nutrition department come about? As part of my agriculture class with Mr. Tommy Henderson, I was growing vegetables, and I had no one to sell them to. So we came up with this crazy idea of e-mailing [Kelly Martin, director of nutrition services for Dinuba Unified School District,] to see if we could get my produce in school lunches. What was the largest harvest you sold? I sold about three boxes of jalapenos and tomatoes—probably about 50 pounds of produce—to the school district to use for school meals. Mr. Henderson and I researched what produce was selling for at farmers’ markets and sold it for that price. What items have you found the most challenging to grow? The most difficult to farm were pumpkins, because [I had] to lay all the drip line, cover them in foil and then irrigate and weed, [which] were [very] labor-filled processes. It was probably the project I learned the most from and got the most satisfaction from. Clearly, you’ve learned a lot about agriculture—and your involvement in FFA has given you leadership experience, too. Any other benefits from this commitment? FFA and my projects have helped me keep on the straight and narrow and to succeed to the extent I have. Are you involved in any farm-to-school efforts now? Since I started college, I am not doing any farming and haven’t really sold produce, because it’s a whole different scene and I’m focusing on my classes. However, I plan on taking courses that deal with plant science and soils. I know that Kelly Martin is working with other kids [in FFA], who are growing produce and following my legacy, and it’s very humbling to know that. You have indicated that you would like to become an agriculture teacher. Why? The impact my agriculture teacher Mr. Henderson had on me helped push me to want to impact kids like he has. He brought out the drive to succeed in me and cracked open my shell for the real world. Do you look at food, where it comes from and how it reaches our plates in a different way now? Seeing all the labor involved behind the scenes to just grow one tomato really gave me a sense of humbleness toward farmers, because people don’t know how food is grown; all they do is go pick it from the shelves. My work has really helped me to come to appreciate agriculture. Alex Elizondo • Agriculture Student • Reedley College, Calif.
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