On a 40-acre school site in southeast Fresno sits a little-known farm that is inspiring minds and growing healthful food.
Launched two years ago on the Fresno Adventist Academy campus, Harvest Fields Organic Farm is a 13-acre operation producing navel oranges, vegetables and a variety of herbs. It’s also home to a flock of 130 pasture-fed chickens and four greenhouses.
And it’s still growing.
The school’s little-used football field has been plowed under and is being prepared to grow potatoes. Even one of the goal posts has been repurposed as a weather station.
“We really didn’t have much of a football program, so we decided to put that land to a good use,” says David Obermiller, who along with his wife, Hope Obermiller, heads a small team that runs Harvest Fields Organic Farm.
The farm, located on Olive Avenue just east of Peach Avenue, is a first-of-its-kind effort in Fresno and mirrors a national trend of building stronger connections between farms and schools.
On the business side, the farm sells its harvested organic fruit and vegetables through its community supported agriculture program, or CSA. The CSA has about 130 members that receive a weekly box of fresh produce from the farm.
At the same time, the Obermillers and the school’s teaching staff use the farm as an outdoor classroom for its 211 kindergarten through 12th-grade students.
At this school, students really get their hands dirty.
Recently, students from Christopher Bispham’s fourth-grade classroom ran excitedly across the campus to the farm’s greenhouses. The students helped plant lettuce seeds in seedling containers. Once sprouted, the seedlings will be replanted and used to continue the farm’s lettuce production. They also plucked radishes from the ground to be shared with their families.
“I want you to take them home and taste them and then come back and tell me what you think of them,” says Timothy Hyde, greenhouse manager.
Part of what the students learn is how food is grown and, perhaps more important, what it tastes like. For some, it’s the first time they’ve eaten a radish or nibbled on a basil leaf.
“I didn’t know what basil was when I first saw it, but it tasted pretty good,” says Isabella Riley. “When we come out here to the farm, we always have fun and we learn lots of stuff about food.”
Principal Marla Rasmussen said it’s important to expose children to agriculture, one of the region’s major industries, and to promote the concept of eating fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet.
“We want our students to learn that there is a process of growing food and that it doesn’t just come from the grocery store,” she says.
David Obermiller, who was lured to Fresno from an organic farm in Arizona to launch the startup farm, said it is critical that students get to taste the food that they are helping to grow.
“We live in a fast-food culture where you can get food cheaply and quickly,” Obermiller says. “What we are trying to do is reconnect kids to farming and helping them understand what good food tastes like.”
The farm also welcomes students from other schools. A group of about 130 students from William Saroyan Elementary will be touring the farm soon.
Obermiller is also helping a downtown Fresno charter school start its own urban farm project.
“I really believe kids learn better when they know the reason for what they are learning,” Obermiller says.
To learn more about Harvest Fields Organic Farm or to donate to the project, visit its web site at https://harvestfields.farm/.