Friday, May 1, 2015

Food for Thought: School Gardens

As I was refilling the watering pot, I watched the school’s chef walk up the steps to the raised beds, a large metal serving tray in one arm and a pair of cooking-grade scissors in the other. He walked towards the garden bed that had rows of leafy greens, bent over, and began to carefully cut the arugula for that night’s dinner. I turned off the faucet, walked back to the non-edible garden area, and smiled while I watered.

In the last school year, a gardening club (heh) sprouted up at CK’s school. I have been volunteering my Saturday mornings in helping monitor the kids since March, but essentially working alongside them and learning in the process. 

I had found solace there among the raised beds and weeding efforts. I had found validation during the stressful moments of job searching and cover letter writing. It also made me want to try gardening again when I went back to the States.

School gardens, I believe, need to be at every school, private and public, from primary to post-secondary age groups. It was such a phenomenal moment to watch the chef cut the arugula greens knowing the students would enjoy the freshest ingredients for dinner. 

Even at CK’s school, having wholesome and fresh ingredients in their meals are too far and few in between. We’ve made it a big deal to say, “For lunch, this dish was made from various things from the garden.” It brings the kids who are part of the club a lot of pride. More often than not the ingredients tend to be frozen or canned in the kitchen, which isn’t a problem really, but since the garden's creation, school lunches have become more vibrant lately.

I can remember my school lunches with stomach-churning clarity (I’m looking at you, Fairfax County Public Schools). It was crap, it really was. And we continue to feed crap to children in the United States, wondering why there is a growing epidemic of obesity and malnutrition. We continue to medicate children for their overactivity, and yet we keep them inside all day. School gardens, much like the one I’ve been volunteering at for the last couple of months, should be more common.

Imagine: kids from ages 4 to 17 (even at University level) learning about the world around them and where their food comes from; kids contributing to their school lunches, and being willing to try fruits and vegetables they once claimed they’d never eat; kids beautifying their school grounds, learning about leadership, compassion for others, and respect for all; kids relishing the taste of a freshly harvested carrot; kids learning about bees and chickens and worms; kids growing up strong and confident.

Gardening is a huge activity, from weeding to seeding to watering to manning the compost pile. It creates dialogue and pride along with very tangible results.   

School gardens wouldn’t be hard to create. Most of the money, in fact, could be collected through fundraisers and donations. Detentions and free periods could be spent on the various day-to-day gardening activities. Individual classes could be responsible of certain food types or chores, rotating as needed or desired. Schools that struggle with a lack of understanding could grow it along with the seeds, and create a sense of community in the meantime. And even if the amount of food isn't enough to feed a school with over 500 students and faculty, the gardens could feed local shelters. 

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