BY Amanda Sotelo

More than 1,700 pounds of potatoes were planted on a chilly and wet Wednesday afternoon by nearly 30 Texas State Technical College Agricultural Technology and Culinary Arts students.

The farm-to-table partnership between the departments brings both programs together so that students can get different perspectives of the food business.

“This project is an effort to continue working closely with Culinary Arts on our farm-to-table initiative,” said Agricultural Technology Instructor Norberto Mendoza. “It’s great to open our students’ eyes to new experiences and opportunities.”

Both programs have been working together on this concept for nearly a year, and although culinary students have already helped to harvest vegetables and fruits, this is the first time they have helped to plant them.

The farm-to-table project gives the agriculture students the chance to give what they have grown to the culinary students to use in their kitchen.

“One of our goals as our partnership grew was to include Culinary in the planting process,” said TSTC Culinary Arts Instructor Emma Creps. “I’m excited to give my students this opportunity, and they’re excited for the experience.”

The students who participated in Wednesday’s potato planting are from the Agricultural Technology Crop Science and Culinary Arts Food Prep I classes.

Everything from potato cutting and treatment to planting on a one-acre lot used by Agricultural Technology was handled by the students under their instructors’ guidance.

Agricultural Technology student Irene Loya said this by far has been one of her favorite projects.

Loya, who will graduate with an associate degree from the program in Spring 2019, is already farming vegetables, fruits and various peppers, as well as growing flowering plants such as lilies, lavenders and roses.

“It’s exciting to be given this type of hands-on, real-world training. I know for a fact I could not get this anywhere else,” said Loya. “Everything I’m doing I can relate to what I am doing and want to do in the future.”

Loya said opportunities like this one give her a chance to build relationships and network with people who she might work with someday. She added that she hopes to grow her farming business once she completes her degree.

“At the end of the day, we’re all here to learn from each other and help in any way we can,” she said. “It just opens doors to many more opportunities that will be beneficial to all of us in the long run.”

Mendoza and Creps agree that this partnership is helping them create well-rounded students who will appreciate the processes that make the food business successful.

“I want my students to know where the food they cook comes from and appreciate the process that happens before they get it in the kitchen,” said Creps.

She added that many of her students go on to work at or open restaurants or build catering businesses, and having an understanding of farm-to-table and its processes makes a huge difference in their success.

Culinary Arts second-semester student Griselda Medina said she is already preparing a space in her backyard for a small vegetable and fruit garden and that this opportunity has opened her eyes to a whole new world.

“I already love nature and what it provides for us,” she said. “I’m not afraid of a little dirt. I’d rather know where my food is coming from and what I’m putting into my body and that of my family and, someday, customers.”

She said being able to plant the potato and seeing it grow over time is something beautiful because it is food that is straight from the earth and natural.

“This is so exciting for me, and I’m glad our instructors have given us this type of opportunity,” said Medina. “This project lets me know that I am definitely on the right path in my life.”

In late May the students will have another opportunity to come together over potatoes when harvesting begins. In the meantime, Culinary Arts will keep cooking and serving the vegetables and fruits that Agricultural Technology provides.

For more information about TSTC Agricultural Technology and Culinary Arts, visit tstc.edu.