The bright yellow school bus crunches to a stop at the end of a gravel road. Farmer Danny Percich greets the stream of second graders clambering off the bus, welcoming them to Full Plate Farm with a broad smile. The students from Union Ridge Elementary peer around at the vast fields and long hoop houses filled with tomatoes. They are excited to tour the working farm and see their science unit on plant life cycles in action.
Percich is almost as excited to tell them about the farm as they are to be there, and his enthusiasm is contagious. “Guess what we grow on the farm?” he asks. A few students guess that he grows plants. Percich nods. “Yes, plants you can EAT! Would you be willing to sample some vegetables as we walk around the farm?” A chorus of voices shouts YES, and Percich’s eyes twinkle. It’s hands-on learning for these Ridgefield School District students as they begin to pick and taste their way through the fields.
This farm is more than just a job for Percich; it is a mission. Full Plate Farm is a certified organic farm that he and his wife, Michelle, built from just a quarter of an acre in 2010 to a thriving three-acre farm today. They specialize in winter-only produce, an underserved niche for Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, their fields provide summer harvests of tomatoes for New Seasons Market. Full Plate Farm is serving the community a wide range of organic vegetables in a sustainable way—and letting children experience the farm means they will take those lessons home, potentially changing the way they think about food and farming in the future.
Percich guides the students through picking large leaves of dinosaur kale and pinching off delicate samples of fennel fronds. “What do you think? Who likes it? Who thinks it’s just decent? Anyone not like it? It’s totally okay if you don’t like something; not everyone does.”
One student glimpses a garter snake in the field and Percich turns that into a lesson too, pointing out why it is important to have a farm that not only makes food for people but also serves as a habitat for animals and bugs, birds and bees. He tells them of the Native American philosophy of the Seventh Generation, the idea that we care for the earth so that even seven generations in the future, our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will still be able to enjoy the earth’s bounty.
Percich puts this principle into action with his own family; his twins, Frankie and Polly, are in the two classes visiting today, and they are clearly familiar with the inner workings of the farm. Frankie and Polly rush to share one of their favorite greens with their classmates, sweet/tart little leaves of sorrel, and beam with happiness when their friends exclaim, “This is delicious!” and “I want more!”
Students take turns delightedly pulling parsnips and watermelon radish, beets and collard greens. When they reach a bare section of dirt, they ask what will grow there. Percich tells them how cover crops like rye, vetch, oats, and peas return nitrogen to the soil, taking it from the air and leaving it in nodules in their roots. Then he grabs a bin. “Do you want to help me plant some seeds here?” He distributes handfuls of seeds to the students, telling each one to walk a different number of steps into the field. The children spin like tops through the rows, arms flung wide, scattering seeds through the air like sprinklers.
When they finish, Percich brings the students back to an apple press, where they take turns pressing apples for fresh juice to enjoy with their picnic lunch. It has been a busy morning, and the students are chattering about everything they harvested, tasted, and learned.
Percich relaxes with the kids, answering their endless questions. Full Plate Farm is about more than just food for the moment; it is also about food for the future. With this firsthand experience of farm life, Percich hopes these young students will remember Full Plate Farm fondly for many years to come.