Pasadena Unified Reveals “Reimagined” Controversial Muir Ranch Program

Curriculum will incorporate ‘real world’ learning; charismatic former leader is not a part of the plans

Published : Wednesday, May 23, 2018 | 5:25 AM

Muir Ranch, the controversial school garden program which sold farm boxes of produce and flowers, paid student interns to learn and was taught by a charismatic man with an eccentric name, has been “reimagined” by Pasadena Unified and will relaunch in a completely new format.

The District has revealed its plans in a document which will be presented to the School Board Thursday.

Mud Baron, the man who ran the John Muir High School program and who garnered fans from Hollywood’s entertainment industry to parents in Northwest Pasadena, won’t be part of the picture going forward.

Critics said Baron’s program did not comply with District administrative guidelines. Specifically, they said, the Ranch no longer tied directly to learning objectives, its finances were murky, and its noncompliance with insurance requirements posed a risk to the District.

“While Muir Ranch began as a great idea to create an urban community farm on the campus of John Muir High School, strong linkages to classroom learning and Muir’s academies have not materialized,” District spokesperson Hilda Ramirez Horvath said in late February. “Over the last few years, Muir Ranch has operated as an ad-hoc program, increasingly independent of John Muir High School and our district.”

According to a presentation about the new program prepared by Pasadena Unified, “All Muir Ranch activities will be student-centered, integrated with other programs at John Muir High School, and aligned with the Pasadena Unified Graduate Profile,” and “all programs and activities will be operated by Pasadena Unified and Pasadena Educational Foundation staff and approved partners, all of whom will be accountable to the Principal of John Muir High School.”

The new Ranch program will also “create opportunities for learning about environmental science, art and design, health, food, and nutrition using Muir Ranch as an outdoor classroom and create meaningful youth employment opportunities where students learn business skills and put them into practice in real-world settings.”

Added Horvath, “While Muir Ranch began as a great idea to create an urban community farm on the campus of John Muir High School, strong linkages to classroom learning and Muir’s academies have not materialized. Over the last few years, Muir Ranch has operated as an ad-hoc program, increasingly independent of John Muir High School and our district.”

Muir students will be employed, hired as paid interns, or receive financial incentives to participate each year.

The program also aims to restore Muir Ranch as a Farm-to-School program, by using produce grown in the garden for meals served in the cafeteria, nutrition education, and “to promote healthier eating habits in and outside of school.”

The new curriculum will feature an after-school course, called “Teaching Food Systems – Farm to Fork,” for 2 days a week for 2 semesters, with 10-15 students each semester. Instruction would be integrated with activities in the garden, according to the district presentation. Proposed lessons for the course would include “Farmers, Factories, and Food Chains,” “Crops, Ecosystems, and Health,” “Why We Eat What We Eat,” “The Hunger Gap,” and “Our Wasted Food.”

According to Pasadena Unified, the “Food Systems” course is to be developed and taught by Denà Brummer, a business and entrepreneurism teacher and the work-based Learning Coordinator at Muir.

School Day classes would incorporate the Outdoor Learning Laboratory, with an integrated curriculum developed by a Pasadena Unified Master Gardener using the garden as laboratory. Formal lessons and class activities such as biology, environmental science, physics, mathematics, small business development, design, and visual arts, would also take place in the garden. Muir Ranch will be equipped with seating for formal and informal teaching and learning.

In addition to the formal curriculum, a portion of Muir Ranch will be rededicated to growing fruits and vegetables for consumption in the cafeteria. The Pasadena Unified Wellness Coordinator, master gardener, and food and nutrition services staff will plan menus for seasonal fresh food to be featured in cafeteria meals. Any additional produce grown at Muir Ranch will supply the student-managed Pop-Up Farm Stand, or be packed and delivered to local food bank and food distribution programs.

The new Muir Ranch program would include, as before, paid student internships in food and nutrition Services. Students will harvest, clean, prepare and serve Muir Ranch produce in the school cafeteria, and act as peer advocates for healthy eating. Students in the Food Systems class will also receive stipends for working in the Muir Ranch production garden

The Summer Pop-Up Farm Stand will provide students with stipends for managing small weekly business providing inexpensive fresh fruits and vegetables to neighborhood residents. Paid internships at local food-related businesses, would also be available as part of the programming.

Pasadena Unified Farm-to-School Program works with nine other functioning production gardens, and Pasadena Educational Foundation “Gardenteers,” will provide a community-school connection to support the garden maintenance.

The Muir Ranch program currently has a working relationship with relationship with the Pasadena Community Gardens Conservancy, the Pasadena Community Foundation, and Tournament of Roses/MiracleGro, and according to the Pasadena Unified presentation, will work to receive potential federal grants from the USDA and EPA.

A number of local businesses and organizations have already committed to the program, including Kiss the Ground, for curriculum and teacher training; Foothill Unity Service, for a food bank program; Huntington Gardens, for field trips and curriculum development; Day One, for classroom visits by nutrition educators and healthy eating resources; Lincoln Café, for prepared food sales and internships.

Muir Students may also qualify for the UCLA Master Gardener Program, through student training and certification, according to the presentation.

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