MANVEL, N.D. -- Amid the neatly spaced rows of carrots, lettuce, spinach, onions, peppers and other vegetables, Lizzy Vaudrin joins a cadre of third- and fourth-graders to pick ingredients they’ll use in a cooking class on this sunny morning in Manvel.

The four-day cooking class, led by NDSU Extension employees, concludes the seven-week Migrant Program this week at Manvel Public School.

“It’s a great experience,” said Vaudrin, a teacher, as she watched the children select the produce. “It’s so rewarding, too, for them to see how they planted (the vegetables) from seed and how they use them.”

Watching from the perimeter, Superintendent Matt Bakke, said, “It’s a great opportunity for students to experience this -- how to plant a garden and then how to work with the vegetables.

“It’s a good lifelong skill they’re learning at a young age.”

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This summer, Manvel School has partnered with NDSU Agricultural Extension, for the first time, to provide lessons on gardening, cooking and baking during the Migrant Program.

In early June, NDSU employees helped the children plant the garden and then returned every two weeks to weed and nurture it with them and provide a gardening lesson, said Carrie Knutson, NDSU Agricultural Extension’s horticulture agent for Grand Forks County.

The goal of the gardening program is “all about getting kids out there, learning where food comes from, and getting them exposed to fresh vegetables and fruits,” Knutson said.

“They also learn basic cooking skills, how to use kitchen utensils, and to try new foods,” she said.

The cost of the cooking lessons is covered by the National 4H Council through funding from the Wal-mart Foundation, Knutson said.

“The kids get aprons and a lunch box with recipes and cooking tools -- an oven mitt, spatula and cutting board,” she said.

The gardening activities are funded by a Junior Master Gardener grant from the state Legislature.

Children of migrant workers

The Migrant Program at Manvel provides education to children in pre-kindergarten through high school grades. About 120 students are enrolled in the program this summer, Bakke said.

Their parents are migrant workers who come from Texas and Mexico to fill seasonal agricultural and oil industry-related jobs in the area. They typically arrive in April and leave by Nov. 1, said Richard Ray, of rural Grand Forks, retired Manvel School superintendent who directed the program for 40 years.

In recent years, enrollment in the federally funded Migrant Program has increased, with average daily attendance hovering in the “upper-70s to low-80s range,” Bakke said.

“We have not seen enrollment like this for five years,” he said.

Because their education is disrupted by moving, some students are filling in gaps in courses they’ve started in the South and some are gaining more credits to get ahead, Bakke said.

The program is a means for them to earn credits they need to graduate from high school.

At Manvel, about a dozen school staff members, including teachers, paraprofessionals and bus drivers, participate in the Migrant Program, said Amanda Fuller, program coordinator and a Manvel teacher.

“We have a lot of returning teachers,” Bakke said.

This is the first year the Migrant Program at Manvel has enrolled preschool children; about 13 usually attend, he said.

Students are bused here from Ardoch, Forest River, Gilby, Hillsboro, Johnstown, Mayville and Minto, N.D., and Alvarado and Olso, Minn.

The only other Migrant Program in North Dakota, which used to host 12 such programs, is in Grafton, N.D., Fuller said.

“It’s a unique program.”

The decrease in the number of migrant programs was caused by mechanization and the use of chemicals in sugar beet production, resulting in fewer jobs for migrants, Ray said.

“Now these workers are general farm laborers, involved in seeding and spraying, and not just sugar beets.”

Hands-on learning

Back inside the school, Knutson surveyed the small groups of students who were clustered around four teachers at tables spread around the school’s gymnasium.

“The best way kids learn is hands on,” she said. “Today we talked about food safety, and then we get them cooking. They really enjoy that part.”

In one of the groups nearby, Gretchen Ivers stood over a hot electric fry pan in the midst of five students.

“OK, before you eat, what should you do?” Ivers asked.

“Turn it off,” Barbara Rodriguez, an enthusiastic 9-year-old from Forest River, piped up.

“Yes,” Ivers said. “Otherwise you can burn things on it, and that will ruin the pan, ruin the finish on it.”

Her students sampled their fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then moved on to preparing a “hunters’ feast” -- a scrambled egg dish with onions, zucchini, red peppers, spinach and cheese.

Leading another group, Linda Kuster pointed out the bright color of the vegetables they’re cooking in the fry pan.

“That gives it a lot of iron,” said Kuster, a nutrition education assistant with NDSU Agricultural Extension.

The students also made whole grain blueberry muffins and shakes with strawberries, bananas and spinach this week. Along with principles of nutrition, they’re learning how to follow a recipe as well as other skills, such as safe use of an electric fry pan, knives and assorted cooking utensils.

They’re also learning that some vegetables deliver unexpected side effects.

As she sliced an onion, the face of 9-year-old Jacky Garcia of Gilby, N.D., scrunched up in concentration.

“I’m cutting onions," she said, "and they smell bad.”

Barbara Rodriguez said cheerfully, “We’re good at this.”

Garcia added, “I’m going to start helping my mom cook.”