Slow Times at Reynoldsburg High

The first high school chapter of Slow Food USA sprouts at Reynoldsburg High School
By / Photography By | October 10, 2019
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Once a Disney World chef, teacher Trevor Horn today is planting a different kind of magic kingdom at Reynoldsburg High, one where apple trees flourish by the tennis courts and tomatoes and cucumbers thrive in the library’s courtyard, planted by students and free for all to pick.

THE SUBJECT IS FOOD
 

I visited Trevor —35 years old, bearded and enthusiastic—at his large, well–equipped classroom in August. Fridges, microwaves and sinks line three walls, and countertops hold piles of watermelons and pumpkins, grown on site. His students will process the pumpkins, make pumpkin pies and plant the saved seeds next spring.

Intriguing objects populate the room. A worm composter sits under a table (“no time to use that one yet,” Trevor says). Two hydroponic growing towers, donated by Franklin County Food Services, dominate the back of the classroom, and the students sit at six black-topped lab tables.

A large bowl of school-grown tomatoes waits on Trevor’s desk, bound for a pasta sauce demo later in the week. In this room and outside in the gardens, he teaches two Ag and Natural Resources classes to 60 students, two Nutrition classes to 56, oversees the senior projects of 20 and heads up the Slow Food and Greenhouse class of 16.

A single quote, one of Trevor’s, dominates the smartboards on the front wall of the classroom: 

“We are a product of our choices, not a product of our environment.”

FROM MICHIGAN TO OHIO VIA FLORIDA
 

Trevor grew up in Woodlawn, Michigan, which he compares to Reynoldsburg: “rural meets urban with a lot of diversity. ” He attended Madonna University in Michigan as a basketball player and elementary education major, switching to culinary school after a career-ending basketball injury.

At Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando, Trevor cooked like he played basketball: “The chef was the coach, my fellow students were the team, the recipes were the playbook. And I had the same work ethic as in basketball. I was passionate.”

Passion and luck handed him an executive chef position at a Michigan country club by age 24, then whisked him to Florida at the invitation of Disney World Chef Tim Keating, now retired. “I cooked mostly at the Flying Fish Restaurant, which was fine dining,” Trevor says.

Despite “great job security and the opportunity to learn a lot” (not to mention the fun of creating menu items like “blue milk” for a Star Wars–themed café), Trevor wanted a job that gave him more free time after his son Colton was born. And time with his son reawakened the desire to teach, this time using the medium that most inspires him: food.

VESSEL OF OPPORTUNITY
 

Reynoldsburg is “extremely culturally diverse,” Trevor says, a mix that includes Ghanaians, Somalis, Latinos and Nepalese. The high school comprises 3,000 students and five academies on two campuses. Trevor teaches at the 500-student STEM academy, Human Services and Health Science.

He notes that “we are often uneducated in our choices, from GMOs to nutrition,” moved by marketing hype rather than solid information. He aims “to educate students so they can make better choices.”

Trevor sees food as a “vessel of opportunity” for his students—opportunities to make connections about food and health, food and resources, food and sustainability, food and careers. To demonstrate the high-tech career possibilities that abound in food and agriculture, Trevor asks students to choose a possible career path and research it. “There is everything from drones that monitor soil temperatures and water levels in a farmer’s field, to plant genetics and agricultural smart phone apps.”

Conversely, students learn that agriculture and food production sometimes take steps backward to go forward, returning to practices like crop rotation and biodiversity rather than monocultures to improve soil quality.

The other important component in empowering students is growing food themselves, both outdoors and in hydroponic systems, some of which are student-designed. “When you see how long it takes even to produce salad greens,” Trevor says, “you start to value what’s on your plate.”

Senior Hayden McLean echoes this thought when I chat with him outside class.

“I like the idea of localizing food,” he says. “Not something that grows halfway across the country and you have to use pesticides on it and then it spoils. A tomato tastes better when you see it grow.”

FIRST IN THE NATION
 

In his first year of teaching, Trevor organized a Friday after-school club about food and sustainability. A chef from Due Amici restaurant demonstrated Italian: mozzarella from scratch with a reduction of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, strange new ingredients for many.

Students celebrated Oktoberfest with a butcher from local Holly Hill Farms. He made bratwurst, Trevor cooked spaetzle and red cabbage, and the students baked an “apple strudel- ish” dessert. Later that year, they made eggnog in a sous vide cooker and raised funds for their club by selling homemade goodies like salted caramel dip to teachers.

The same students began erecting a greenhouse, donated by Battelle, on the unused school tennis courts. A Mid-Ohio Foodbank grant provided materials for raised beds and compost pits, and later, equipment and a farm stand for home-game produce sales.

Spurred by student interest, Trevor became a board member of Slow Food Columbus. Their vision of food that is “good, clean and fair for all” was in sync with Trevor’s vision to empower his students with the knowledge to “make informed decisions and support sustainable practice.” He proposed that the school club become a high school chapter of Slow Food, the first one in the country.

Director of Slow Food Columbus Mark Anthony Arceno, a PhD candidate at OSU with a specialty in wine and climate change, thought Trevor’s ideas “sounded like a great opportunity.” “School gardens at grade-school level have been successful, so the stage is set,” says Mark Anthony. “We hope that the Reynoldsburg chapter can serve as a model for other chapters.”

The club is now an elective class, Slow Food and Greenhouse, at RHS.

SOLVING REAL—LIFE PROBLEMS
 

While growing at the school presents challenges, Trevor sees them as opportunities for students to solve “real-life problems.”

Some examples:

  • Problem: No outside water source.
  • Solution: 60-gallon rain barrels at all four corners of the greenhouse.
  • Problem: The rain barrels provide some water, but not enough.
  • Solution: Possibly a student-designed-and-built water tower and drip irrigation to save water.
  • Problem: No outside electricity to power greenhouse fans.
  • Solution: Solar-powered fans.
  • Problem: Japanese beetles in the apple trees. No chemical pesticides allowed.
  • Solution: Traps and nematode oil.

Generous grants and community support solve other problems. Donations have included confiscated grow lights for inside gardening (from the Reynoldsburg Police Department), eight Jonathan and Granny Smith apple trees (Strader’s Garden Center) and compost manure (The Paddock Stables).

And students give back, Trevor says. “This year’s senior projects include supporting biodiversity in the local ecosystem by planting flowers and milkweed and making bird and bat houses.” Other students are working to create a food pantry for high school students, while others teach gardening to younger students in the school system.

Many of his students have no experience in growing. Senior Nailah Harris, who is taking the Slow Food Greenhouse class, admits to being “a little scared” of her first venture in gardening, but “Anything that helps the earth, it attracts me.” She adds, “I always liked the idea of going my own way and taking charge of my own health.”

And that is just the kind of thinking that Trevor wants to encourage.