Spartan Market sells broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, eggs at Strathmore High School Ag Farm
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
STRATHMORE – When it came time for Toni Avila to choose where she would go to high school, the Lindsay resident decided to attend her parents’ alma mater at Strathmore High School (SHS). Now halfway through her junior year, Avila said the decision has become less about her family’s past and more about her future.
“I’m more of a hands on person and it’s crazy the kind of things we get to learn and do here,” Avila said.
Since entering high school, Avila has planted lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower, worked in an innovative greenhouse utilizing fans and cooling tiles to maintain temperatures, and cultivate plants at a state-of-the-art hydroponics lab inside a converted seatrain storage container known as the Crop Box. And on Tuesday, Avila helped open the school’s first ever farmers market, Spartan Market, just west of campus on Avenue 196.
“If you’re into ag, than this is where you need to be,” Avila said.
Amanda Larson, SHS ag department chair and lead educator for the Emerging Agricultural Technology pathway, said the market was a dirt field before the school year began and now has a classic red barn with white trim metal building, a striped parking lot enclosed by a fence and pallet shelves and signs made by students. The market sells fresh cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and lettuce harvested just outside the barn for $1 per head, eggs collected from student-made coops behind the barn for $2 per dozen, flowers and succulents grown in the greenhouse, as well as honey and barbecue sauce donated by a local honey farm.
“It’s come a long way very quickly,” said Larson, who could hardly contain her smile as she looked out over the improvements.
The market, Crop Box, chicken coops, greenhouse and new plantings are all taking place on 13 acres of an abandoned citrus grove that was developed either just prior or during the current school year.
“It’s kind of a dream I had two years ago but I thought was too crazy for the district office to go for,” said the seven-year ag educator. “But when we told them the idea they thought it was great for the kids.”
Avila is one of 160 students enrolled in the Emerging Agricultural Technology Pathway (EAT) and among 360 involved in the ag program through pathways, FFA or otherwise at Strathmore High School. Avila said all of the improvements in the high school farm are part of resurgence of Spartan pride that coincides with the football team’s recent State Championship,
“It’s so crazy to see all of this in such a small town,” Avila said. “People from Strathmore and Plainview have always had to go to Lindsay for food but now they can come here. It feels like its all part of the community being uplifted.”
Within the first hour, the market had five customers mostly from Porterville. Linda and Raymond Camarena, a retired couple from Porterville, said they had heard about the market and decided to stop in and see what fresh produce they were offering. Linda was took her time perusing the pallet shelves before finding some of the largest broccoli in the county and some chromatic purple cauliflower.
“At our age, it’s more about quality than quantity when it comes to food, and everything here looks so fresh,” she said.
Larson said there is still work to be done to the market. The barn will be outfitted with a kitchen and bathroom in the near future and they have yet to have a cash register or e-commerce square to take credit card payments. For now, students will take cash payments only and fill out a receipt slip for customers. Larson said having students learn to count back change, fill out a manual receipt book and be responsible for the cash box is all part of the hands-on learning experience of the student-run enterprise.
“They are learning real skills that makes what they are learning in the classroom more relevant to them,” Larson said. “This kind of work helps them be more engaged which means they’ll have more pride in what they do.”
The Spartan Market is only open when fresh produce is available but Larson said they would like to open once per week and then eventually five days per week as more fresh vegetables and fruit are grown on campus. In the meantime, produce and eggs can be purchased at the Strathmore High School office between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily.
Larson said she is also working with FoodLink of Tulare County to make the Spartan Market the new home for Friday food distributions to the community. The 13-acre farm will soon have new classrooms, an ag mechanics shop, animal barns, a petting zoo and a “you pick” area open to the public. They are also planning on planting an acre of grapes, olives and some pasture for livestock as well as six acres of lemons on the other side of campus.