In our A City Education series, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the opportunity gap and ending the dropout crisis.
Only 2 percent of American children eat enough fruits and vegetables and in urban areas, such as New York City, just having access to these foods can be a challenge. Fortunately the growing popularity of urban gardens enables many schools to create their own farm-to-table curriculum, giving students hands-on experiences working with soil, seeds, and plants. Last year, with the help of the City Year team and the Grow to Learn NYC, P.S. 154x created their very own urban garden.
The Grow to Learn NYC organization was established in 2010 as a public-private partnership that promotes the creation of urban gardens throughout New York City’s public schools. In 2011, Kendra Brown, the art teacher at P.S. 154x applied for a grant and the school was rewarded $2,000 to start a collection of small planting beds. Grow to Learn NYC provided a gardening instructor, several growing lamps, soil, and lumber to build six beds. In the spring of 2012, students, parents, and teachers from P.S. 154x gathered and worked together to create the gardens.
"The students absolutely loved it," Ms. Brown said of the students' involvement in creating the gardens. Each grade was given a specific role, with the oldest children helping to move dirt and other grades working on planting seeds and other jobs. The students were inspired to behave well in school so that they could help out with the garden. The school worked collaboratively to create gardens that the whole community could benefit from. And the students were able to truly see the fruits of their labor, as Ms. Brown said, throughout the whole process, "students got to see from seed to plant, from plant to garden, and from garden to cucumber."
In addition to the hard skills and access to fresh vegetables, the garden also helped build a sense of pride for the school and community, and they worked hard to take care of it. Even when the school year ended the work in the garden never stopped. Students, teachers, and parents continued coming the garden during the summer vacation to help with weeding and other maintenance.
This year, P.S. 154x received another grant from Grow to Learn NYC so they can maintain the gardens and begin to grow new beds in the spring. The school was also granted Grow NYC “Seed to Plate Curriculum”, a ten lesson curriculum addressing the need to teach New York City students about food, including where it comes from and why that matters. This will help the school promote healthy life choices, and the value of freshly grown food.
Ms. Brown has very exciting goals for the future of the garden at P.S. 154x. She will be applying for a grant that would bring chickens to the school. “We are trying to connect the gardens be part of our school culture and part of the core curriculum. The goal is to have the kids learn about foods, and therefore have the students be able to eat healthier,” she says.
I look forward to helping with the garden in any way I can. Last year, the team took over the strawberry bed and worked on it during the after school program with the fourth graders. This year, perhaps we will help care for baby chickens or help weed the herb garden.
Want to get involved and help, too? While the Indiegogo campaign for P.S. 154x's garden recently met its funding goal, other schools need your help growing and maintaining their gardens. Click here to support an urban garden campaign at a public school near you.
This month, we're challenging the GOOD community to host a dinner party and cook a meal that contains fewer ingredients than the number of people on the guest list. Throughout March, we'll share ideas and resources for being more conscious about our food and food systems. Join the conversation at good.is/food and on Twitter at #chewonit.
Photo courtesy of City Year New York