Posted on Wed, July 22, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
0 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity, Farms and Farming, Film/TV/Radio, Youth Food Movement,
by Heidi Busse
Madison, Wisc. When students get to work in a garden, good things happen. An empty lot is transformed into edible fields, students learn job skills that connect them with their agrarian heritage and fresh produce is harvested for the local food pantry.
These are just a few of the benefits that students at Madison East High School are learning and sharing with the community. This summer, Community GroundWorks at Troy Gardens has created an urban farm in partnership with Madison East and the Goodman Community Center. If successful, their goal is to create a new model for high school agriculture education.
When we started [this spring], there was nothing planted here, says Megan Cain, East High Farm Manager. Now this 5-acre plot is a lush vegetable garden, a mosaic of newly tilled vegetable beds. The land was originally donated to the Madison School District in the 1950s by a retiring dairy farmer. The school district built an elementary school on the land, but kept 5 acres of woods and green space to use as a demonstration site for their agriculture program. When I walk the land and see the stands of edible fruit trees and wildflower prairie that stand among the newly planted vegetable beds, I cant help but dwell for a moment on the hard work and dreams that have been put into this place long before the students started farming this summer.
East Highs agriculture program has been eliminated other programs have higher priority and more interest but the district has kept the land as a community gardening site. The pressure to transform the site into something of value weighs heavy, because the district would benefit from the profits of selling the land. So this summer, Community GroundWorks came in to help the district realize the farms educational potential and provide jobs to East High students and Native American youth.
Students have broken sod, built raised beds and planted a variety of herbs and vegetables. The youth helped with plant selection they like to grow vegetables they are familiar with, especially the seed packets with pictures to identify them. The students approach to plant selection reminds me of a quote by African Environmentalist Baba Dioum:
In the end, we will conserve only what we love;
We will love only what we understand; and
We will understand only what we have been taught.
When one of the youth, Ellen, saw the Seed Savers Exchange Collard Greens picture, she snatched up the packet to plant.
Oh, collard greens! My mom loves collard greens. They remind her of our home in Liberia. Weve gotta plant collard greens so I can take them to her to cook. It will make her happy.
Most of the farms harvest will go to the Goodman Community Centers Food Pantry. These deliveries of fresh produce couldnt come at a more critical time.
Last year, a busy month for us would be about 500 customers. Now a regular month is over 1,000 customers, says Helen Hazelmare, Food Pantry Coordinator.
From employing students to providing fresh produce to those in need, the garden is supplying multiple community benefits. Teacher Kitty King, East Highs Garden Club Advisor, shares her perspective on the value of the farm:
This is like a dream come true and the fact that students are doing this is fantastic. Our hope is not only to provide vocational experience to students, but also to give them an opportunity to give something back to the community.
The students agree. When I asked Ellen why shes working out here, she offered this: Our hard work is not going to waste. We are helping others. Good things happen when youth are in the garden, and the goodness is shared with the whole community.
For more information, contact Heidi Busse (heidi_busse[at]yahoo.com) and Megan Cain (megan[at]troygardens.org)