September Grower Spotlight of the Month - Chris Massa - Ventura County Agricultural Education
Every time I turn around, I find there are good people trying to accomplish great things in our community. It’s wonderful to witness. Chris Massa is one such individual. He is at the forefront of the local farm-to-school movement. Since September is back-to-month, it makes perfect sense that we dedicate our September newsletter to Chris, who is the Farm-to-School Operations Specialist at Ventura Unified School District. I will tell you why…
Chris’s most vivid and fondest memories as a child were working with his mom in their garden. Chris said, “She planted a vegetable garden every summer. I would get so much enjoyment from helping her harvest zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, carrots, lettuce, basil, chives and thyme,” which were used in their dinners every night.These childhood experiences inspired him to give other people the same experience of eating meals with ingredients picked just a couple of hours prior.
According to agricultural historian Rose Hayden-Smith, school gardens were used as early as since 1811 in parts of Europe. At that time, the purpose of school gardens varied: gardens provided an outdoor classroom to teach natural sciences (like agriculture), and develop vocational skills for farming. Today, in my experience, gardens offer an inspirational interactive medium to teach a myriad of subjects in addition to science. Especially today, gardens are needed more than ever, as kids in the modern educational system may never encounter soil, plants or gardens unless it’s at school.
School gardens not only provide students with a beautiful connection to natural sciences, but they are also a wonderful way to teach them that they have the power to be nurturing producers and in addition to consumers, which is a powerful lesson in our modern materialistic society. School gardens are a way to connect urbanized kids to their agrarian, producer heritage, the Jeffersonian ideal of the strong farmer. Teaching children about agriculture and growing food can develop their understanding that they have the power to be self-reliant. A very empowering lesson indeed!
Massa is also a FoodCorps service member who started a student-led farm at UC’s Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Santa Paula. Over the course of 30 weeks, his program grew more than 2,000 pounds of produce that went to the students’ families, school cafeterias and a local food bank. His Salad Bar Farms pilot school farm project at Balboa Middle School is the next chapter in his fight to teach kids about planting, growing, harvesting and packaging organically grown fruits and vegetables for their own cafeteria. Chris wants to teach kids how to live a healthy long life and a school garden is a great way to do this.
Chris’s favorite quotation – “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
Thank you Chris Massa for being a great advocate of farming, school gardens and nutrition.