In addition to growing their own produce, students learn about using organic waste to make soil for their gardens.
Visitors at Sugar Mill Elementary might be surprised to spot strawberries, papayas, peppers, pineapples, bean, avocados, lettuce and melons around the campus.
Students from each grade take turns tending to their fruits and vegetables, which they've grown over several weeks. Eventually, they harvest what they've grown and make a meal.
The program once again gained recognition from the Florida School Nutrition Association, which awarded Debra Feeney, School Way Cafe manager, the innovative idea award for introducing composting as a supplement to the Farm-to-Table Program.
The program started nearly two years ago, but was boosted by several grants from Lowes Toolbox for Education, Tanger Outlets and Volusia County Schools that totaled $10,000.
In addition to the edible gardens, fourth grade students are involved in the eight-week meal planning program called Dinner at 4 Cooking Club, which was founded by School Way Cafe Assistant Carol Pugliese.
Through the program, students learned how to prepare, cook and serve food. In December, students used their skills to serve a spaghetti dinner to about 30 people, including Volusia County School Board Chair Linda Cuthbert.
Pugliese won the School Wellness Advisory Council of the Year for this after-school program.
Prior to her becoming Sugar Mill's SWC manager three years ago, Feeney said school cafeteria staff did not pursue FSNA certification. Once they did, they were eligible for awards. As a result, staff members are more innovative in the kitchen, and the school has won state awards each year.
"It's more than a job," Fenney said.
Fenney said the next step was reducing any waste produced by the kitchen. On average, a school of 600 students generates about 225 pounds of compostable waste each week.
With the help of school guidance counselor Marie Bracciale, she ordered tumbler-style composting bins. As a staff, they save scraps from meal prep and drop them into the barrel, along with any organic matter, such as weeds, and a microbe solution. Students take turns tumbling the waste until it turns into soil for their edible gardens.
Composting has helped produce beautiful fruit, Feeney said, but also taught children about the benefits of reducing waste and recycling. It also adds another step into the Farm-to-Table Program. Bracciale said students also gain behavioral health benefits from spending time outdoors, and they learn about healthy eating.
"Students are so willing to try their food when they've had a hand in preparing it," Feeney said.
However, recycling does not stop there.
Throughout the lunch periods, Feeney noticed children would throw away whole fruits, vegetables and unopened milk or juice boxes, so she established a "share table," where students can place what they don't want or eat.
Students who want more food can grab something from the table, and what is left at the end of the day is collected by the Bread of Life Food Pantry run by the Community United Methodist Church in Daytona Beach.
The pantry supports 140 to180 older adults, people with disabilities and young families struggling financially. Each week, pantry coordinators pick up dozens of filled crates from the school.
"It shows children that everyone is helping each other, and it doesn't take a lot to help people," she said.