Presidio Elementary Flex Farm students get a taste of the Philippines 

Fifth graders Fernanda Ronquillo and Ivan Moreno help Glenda Morales prepare lumpia, or Filipino pork spring rolls. Photo by Elvira Hermosillo.

PRESIDIO — Earlier this month, Presidio Elementary School students taking summer classes in cooking and hydroponic gardening joined forces to prepare traditional Filipino dishes. Along the way, they practiced sustainable gardening practices, tried new foods and learned about the culture of their friends and neighbors from the Philippines. 

Presidio Elementary’s summer school kids have been experimenting with a hydroponic gardening unit referred to as the Flex Farm, installed at the school last summer. The Flex Farm is a vertical pod that allows plants to grow without soil — a major advantage in a place like Presidio, where the soil is shallow and rocky. 

The Flex Farm — built by Fork Farms and funded by Amerigroup — is used throughout the school year by Johnery Estolloso’s fifth grade students. The kids typically grow varieties of leafy greens — at this year’s municipal Fourth of July bash, the community got to sample the Flex Farm’s bright, crunchy lettuce.

During the summer, kids of all ages get to experiment with the unit. During this year’s summer school, Ruby Hermosillo’s enrichment students got to plant the seeds and other campers helped track their progress. 

This year, the summer school staff wanted to try something new. Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) community liaison Elvira Hermosillo approached Glenda Morales, a Presidio Elementary School teacher leading a culinary enrichment program at summer school.

Morales — like a growing number of Presidio ISD staff and students — is from the Philippines. Hermosillo and Morales hatched a plan: why not use the Flex Farm to help introduce Presidio kids to traditional Filipino cooking? 

They decided to grow bok choy, a type of cabbage commonly used in East Asian cooking. When the cabbage was ready to harvest, Morales and her students put their heads together to design a menu featuring the vegetable — which most of the students had never tried before. 

Morales kicked off the class by making lumpia, or spring rolls. The students chopped up the bok choy and mixed it with seasoned pork before frying the rolls to create the perfect crispy snack. 

The next day, the kids added bok choy to a traditional Filipino soup called Sinigang na Baboy, which also includes okra, radishes and a special variety of eggplant. They also got to sample japchae, a Korean stir-fried noodle dish. 

Hermosillo said that the students enjoyed trying new foods — the lumpia were a big hit. “Some students were hesitant to try the new dishes, but they all came around and tried a little bit of everything,” she said. 

The experience was very meaningful to Morales, who moved to the United States in 2006. It’s a long and expensive trip to go home, so her family typically makes do with occasional trips to El Paso for specialty groceries and a meal at Halo Halo, a Filipino restaurant. 

She enjoyed getting to share some of the flavors of her home country with her students. “Many of them have never been out of Presidio, so it’s a good opportunity for them to try another cuisine,” she said. 

Morales hoped that the cross-cultural program with the Flex Farm would continue to grow next year. For her, it was symbolic of the strong friendship between lifelong Presidians and their Filipino neighbors. “We are so blessed to have this community that is so welcoming to us,” she said.