Veggies, school yards — floating an idea

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One major talent I have that I’ve probably not used enough is an ability to synthesize lots of varied pieces of information and find a way to put them together into some sort of new whole.  Sometimes I  put it to good use though.  Out of lots of reading about many things and watching news documentaries and substitute teaching, following environmental issues and exploring nutrition I came up some years back with an idea for edible schoolyard gardens that -at the time, at least (haven’t looked for what’s new lately)– had a broader scope than any projects I could find .  For a while I had a partner who was going to help me work on funding and start-up, etc. but life took her in a different direction and while I’m good at dreaming up ideas like this I’m less skilled at execution (especially in the proposal and fundraising departments; know how to do them just don’t like to)  so the idea has languished.   I thought I’d just lay the idea out in a post and float it out into the world where maybe somebody can make it useful.

My interest is mainly in putting edible gardens in poorer school districts though I think the basic plan can work for any school.  I’d like to see funds included to have nutrition, cooking and gardening classes for parents so that interested families can be impacted at home as well as school.  Since many school yards don’t have enough spare space for a garden large enough to feed a whole school every day, I’d add a community garden component that involves the children and parents as well as volunteers.  The aim would be to have enough crops from the community garden to not only supplement the school’s supply but also to have fresh fruits and veggies for the families of children to serve at home.

I know that school districts make a big deal out of the core curriculum and it’s tough to get that to change, but I think a curriculum that ties multiple subjects to the garden project could be created that could be fit within the regular curriculum.  Studies on experiential education indicate that children like to see how the things they’re learning can be applied in life and learn better if they can experience that application of learning.  I can see ways to tie in everything from simple math and health and reading to advanced math, literature, geography, biology, etc. so the schools could have classes within their classes at every level of public education.  Some of my grant proposal thoughts are to get some education profs to work with organic gardening experts on developing such a curriculum so that each subject could be tied to reality by a component related to the garden.

Many schools are too far north to have vegetables very much of the year.  Northwestern’s Center for Urban Affairs (which has since morphed) started a rooftop greenhouse project many years ago that friends of mine were involved in.  I’ve followed along occasionally over the years as it’s changed and grown with technology and I still think it’s an amazing way to bring fresh food to places without enough land.  The greenhouses also reduce energy use in the buildings so the schools could not only have fresh produce in the winter but also save lots of money on heating bills.

My most luxury component came from a series Jamie Oliver did about how schools in Italy provide nutritious fresh meals for the children on reasonable budgets.  I’d love for each participating school to fly the cafeteria workers to Italy to see it in action and then provide classes stateside to help them transition to use the harvest from the garden project.  If not the fantasy trip, then at least the classes –and maybe viewing the Oliver series????

I realize there are lots of pieces.  My thought was a given school district, if unable to get the funds for the whole things at once, could start with a basic plan in consultation with the Chez Panisse Foundation‘s Edible Schoolyard Project and then keep adding components.  I’d like to create a foundation (or see someone create) that would put the whole package together and do fundraising so that schools could come to the foundation and get assistance for funding and implementing schoolyard/community edible garden projects.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten.  All of this came with a bit more thinking and gathering than I’ve spelled out here so I may do another post or two to lay our some of my thinking about specific pieces.  I’m interested to hear suggestions.  Mostly I’m sending this forth with the wish that it may move out into the world and do something good.

This post is for Jenny Matlock’s AlphabeThursday which is “V” this week.

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17 thoughts on “Veggies, school yards — floating an idea

  1. This sounds like a natural for health and wellness classes. There are options: Start at the Federal level, state, county, city, or my choice – with one school as a prototype. Work out the problems on that level and market it from a successful model. Funding and local supply donations are easier to get at that level, classes from Home depot etc. Once you have the model…..Utube might do the rest for you without needing a goverment beauracracy or creating one yourself.

    • Yes, the one school idea was where we planned to start to have one functioning model — I’m just not the person to get the model up and running. You’ve got some good suggestions!

  2. Hi Leigh, this is a wonderful idea. The green school in bali incorporates edible gardens into their whole curriculum http://www.greenschool.org/ and there is a whole school movement going on in Melbourne, Australia to get kids growing veggies. Here’s an initiative by a well known chef in Australia http://www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au/about-the-program. If you just type in Melbourne schools and veggie patch, you will find a whole lot of other sites too. Hope that helps!

  3. I think it is a great idea. I heard on NPR tonight that there is a public school in New York that just made its lunch menu completely vegetarian. I wouldn’t have thought that could happen.

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