First Impressions of the School Garden

This past week, I got the chance to hang out with a crew of kindergarteners as they took their first chance at digging into a small school community garden plot abutting their classroom. The kids were super-excited to get outside and use garden trowels, and while the main lesson of the day surrounded the planting of seeds for sugar snap peas, the kids were most enthusiastic about the earthworms…

Earthworms!

Early in their orientation to the garden, the kids were asked to think of what ways they should behave in the garden Continue reading

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Gardening Programs: Fueled by Volunteers

How does a nonprofit like Friends of Burlington Gardens become a success? Of course, there are grants and other benefactors to help the organization monetarily, but I believe the real glue of an organization like this is the volunteers.

I got a phone call from one of the coordinators from the FBG in the short days before a children’s workshop event, with a last-minute request to assist her with one of the activities. I agreed to come, and helped with a workshop where kids made incredible fruit and vegetable sculptures (and snacks).

From what I could gather, most of the adults in attendance were volunteers with little experience or familiarity with the children’s mini-conference. Each group of children that circulated through our workshop came with one or two volunteers. Most of the time, these volunteers looked exhausted – especially in contrast to the excited kids – and half of the volunteers left during the workshop, perhaps using the time to recuperate. These volunteers were generally younger women who, perhaps like me, were looking for a chance to do volunteer work while getting exposure to children’s activities and anything remotely connected to nutrition or local foods. I got the feeling that these volunteers had never helped out for this event before since many seemed unsure about the time allotted to each workshop, and because many of these volunteers seemed somewhat uncomfortable improvising activities for the antsy children who finished their food sculptures early.

This is an example of how FBG (and the associated organization who created the children’s mini-conference) rely heavily on volunteers to make their events a success. FBG certainly has a core of volunteers who regularly offer help at events such as these, but other volunteers may be recruited through networks with related local organizations. For instance, the local food cooperative allows its members to receive discounts by volunteering with FBG.

The organization is always in need of more volunteers. I helped out at the office today and felt guilty leaving because there were more tasks to complete, and, sure enough, before I left, I was coaxed into helping at another event this weekend.

The volunteer is essential to this organization’s survival. But is it only because they are a body completing a task? Absolutely not! If you can think of a similar nonprofit in your hometown, try to imagine for a moment how that organization would differ if run only by a full-time staff of the same five or six or more people. How would that organization differ from how it was run when maintained by only one or two staff members plus a steady flow of volunteers? What are the benefits of each of these scenarios? To what extent is the community’s connection to the organization lost without the volunteer? I would argue that the steady flow of volunteers who help FBG are the foundation to its mission to serve and interact with the community.

FN 2/20

Do School Gardeners Eat Their Fruits and Vegetables?

School gardens are a wonderful asset for teaching our youth. They get kids outside. Kids learn about nature and science. And then those kids try the plants they grow, eating their fruits and vegetables.

Hold 0n – I have to agree that I have nodded my head along with everyone else when I hear about a school garden and its success with the youngsters. But how are we all so sure gardens actually change dietary habits?

In November, the blog Schools of Thought posted a story on a school garden located in Atlanta, Georgia. The report shares the program’s success integrating the garden into elementary school curricula. The post opens with a list of fruits and vegetables the students have been exposed to through the garden and how the garden has increased children’s willingness to try new foods. In the post, a teacher’s comment is included: “You’d be surprised… what foods students are willing to try if they grow it themselves.”

But is this always the case with school gardens? Does getting kids in the dirt actually result in their willingness to try new foods?

Last spring, I worked with an after school cooking club at a middle school in Charlottesville, Virginia. The cooking club made different dishes each week which frequently included herbs or produce from the school’s teaching garden. One week, I planned a salad recipe for the students to create, and our first task was to gather some greens from the teaching garden. Because the cooking club is coordinated by the same teachers and community members who assist with the teaching garden programs, there is a large emphasis on using the garden’s produce within recipes, and there are also several students who are members of both the cooking and the garden club. On the week that we made a chef’s salad, I urged the students to try baby mustard greens to see if they thought it would be a good addition to their salad. Not all of the kids were willing to try the bitter, spicy leaf, including some who were also m embers of the teaching garden. So how can we be sure the exposure actually results in better diets?

WP 2/23