Healthy Sprouts Kids Garden Grant
List the primary goals of your garden program and how you will impact your community:
Our school serves San Francisco's Tenderloin Neighborhood—an area known for its drug dealers and streetwalkers, but also for its thriving Asian, Latino and Middle Eastern immigrant communities. Most of our students are children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, and most speak a language other than English at home. Our neighborhood is a dense grid of storefronts and tenements whose fire escapes sometimes overflow with belongings because there is literally no room inside. There are few trees and only two public playgrounds, one of which has been claimed by the drug trade. Despite its rough edges, the neighborhood’s got a lot of heart and it’s also full of the hope and determination that make immigrant economies succeed despite the odds. The primary goal of our garden program is to be a part of this life force, to contribute to the neighborhood's vitalization by growing food that will nourish both body and mind, developing in our students a concrete understanding of the cycle of life itself.
9)How and when do/will you use the garden to teach about nutrition and hunger?:
For many of our students, hunger is not an abstract concept, but a lesson they've unfortunately already mastered. Though their bellies may be full, the quality of the food they consume is often erratic. Many rely on food stamps, food pantries and cheap fast food for calories. All of our students qualify for the Federal Free/Reduced Price School Lunch Program, and though the program has recently eliminated trans fats from its menus, many of its offerings are still loaded with high fructose corn syrup and refined white flour, and almost all school lunch vegetables are frozen or canned. Students used to receive fresh fruit as part of the after-school snack, but recent budget cuts have done away with healthy apples and oranges, replacing them with much less nutritious juices.
We will use our garden to teach children where food actually comes from; so much of what they consume is so heavily processed, they forget that food starts in the earth, not a can or a factory. We will research the nutritional content of the food we grow and compare it with that of a typical fast food meal. We will discuss the health hazards of a poor diet and the difference between empty calories and nutrition-rich calories. Upper grade students will investigate the political and economic sources of such nutritional disparities, and learn about why junk food is so dangerously cheap. We will use technology to gather data but the roots of our lessons will always begin in the soil.
10) What environmental concepts will students learn through your program?:
Our garden will be free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the children will learn how this choice will reduce our carbon footprint on the planet. We will study the health effects of exposure to pesticides and the environmental benefits of consuming locally grown produce. Ideally, our garden will include two forms of compost. We’d like to expand our small worm composting bins and build larger bins for composting dead leaves and stalks leftover after a harvest. We will learn about how composting diverts waste from environmentally destructive landfills and fertilizes the soil without harmful chemicals. Students will be involved in the growing cycle from “seed to seed”—from sewing seeds to collecting them from post-harvest plants that have “gone to seed.”
11) How will you use the fruits and vegetables you grow?:
We will use them in cooking projects that support curricular objectives in math and science. For example, last spring we grew fennel in our garden and made fennel ice cream (sounds strange, but the kids loved it). We used the opportunity for a lesson on chemistry, introducing the concepts of colligative properties and freezing point depression. We've also grown basil in our classroom window pots, and have used the basil in homemade pizza--making the dough was a hands-on lesson in the microbiology of yeast. When a harvest is especially bountiful we give away the surplus to parents to cook and eat at home with their children.
project over :
We have a small existing garden that consists of a few container plots and one worm -composting bin in a fifteen by four-foot area on a balcony that overlooks the playground. We have enough space to double the garden’s size. I started the garden eight years ago, experimenting with different vegetable seeds over the seasons. We’ve discovered that Royal Burgundy beans and Sugar Snap peas grow best in foggy San Francisco summers (our site runs a summer session), and kale, lettuce and potatoes grow well in the winter. We also have pots in the classroom where we grow herbs year-round and beans in the summer—their leaves flatten against the windows, soaking up sun (great for lessons on photosynthesis!) and their vines curl around the shade strings. Our plan is to add more containers and continue growing the varieties we’ve had success with but also experiment with new ones.
Our hands-on gardening activities will involve maintenance tasks like planting, watering, fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting, as well as assignments designed to hone students’ math and science skills. For example, in years past we have charted growth with bar graphs, comparing different varieties of the same plant, or the ways different growing conditions (soil type, container size) impact the same plant, incorporating principals of the scientific method into our experiments.
Redding Early Education Center is a smaller program within a larger elementary school. We provide academic enrichment opportunities for children of the working poor (to qualify, parents must be working, but their incomes cannot exceed certain limits). Our site has two classrooms, each one staffed with a teacher and an instructional aide. I am one of the teachers, and my instructional aide and I coordinate our site’s gardening program, scheduling garden time and tasks and creating lesson plans. We usually take children to the garden in groups of six at a time. If we receive this grant, our plan is to continue with this arrangement. I plan to sustain it with a combination of grants and instructional budget funds, depending on the School District’s fiscal situation. Some years, teachers are allotted a small instructional budget, other years they must get by with grant money or pay for materials out of pocket.