By Kathleen Coveney, G.A.T.E. John S Park ES & Crestwood ES
I am not a farmer. I am not a gardener. At least’s that what I told myself over a year ago when I was nominated to run our school Garden Team. I simply said aloud that I like gardening and next thing I knew, I was in charge of 17 newly installed garden beds. Oh boy. The first thing I discovered was that I was not alone. Our gardens were put in by a local garden company, Garden Farms, whose maintenance included a weekly farmer to work with our students (and to give me advice and insight). The next thing I discovered was there was a monthly fee for this advice, help, and oh so needed expertise. I knew we could not lose our farmer, so I looked to the beds and our students for a solution.
Organic Garden Club
The Organic Garden Club was born. Comprised of 16 dedicated 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade volunteer students, we met up at 7 am once a week to work in the garden. Our goal was to raise funds to continue our monthly maintenance as well as add materials and tools to our garden shed (aka, my classroom). Our first Farmers’ Market was held in early October before school. We had 30 minutes to sell 65 pounds of produce. My approach to this market was to make it about the kids-they would run the show from set-up, sales, to break down. Our ‘bankers’ even had to work with our office manager to get start up cash, be cashiers, and fill out the cash slip to turn in the money afterwards. As teachers, it was our job to get out of their way. We sold out just as the start bell rang. We raised $163.00.
The garden grows persistence and grit. It grows compassion and caring. It grows strength and wisdom. It grows innovation and discoveries. It grows patience and understanding.
What started out as a simple solution that worked for the needs of our school, turned out to be the start of something great in our district. We were the first school to actually have a farmers’ market, open to the public, run by the students.(Since then 14 other elementary school and 1 high school in the CCSD have had their own farmers’ markets). We didn’t have any expectations but to raise the capital needed to keep our garden growing strong. The kids had marketing, banking, and farming on their minds as we went from one market to five in all by years end raising over $1200. Each time they learned and adapted to what was and was not working. In the middle of all this, the Honda Grant came about as did the need to actually put what we were doing (learning) into lessons so other teachers could create the same experience at their school.
In developing the unit of study for 5th grade, Juliana Urtebay, a teacher from Crestwood ES and I looked carefully at what came before us. By 5th grade these students would have learned all about technical gardening. We wanted to give them a place to leap forward with this knowledge. Cultivating Food Justice was our way of helping students to develop a sense of the global impact of farming, starting right here in Las Vegas, Nevada and moving outward to practices and needs around the world. We wanted the students to be empowered with their own ideas and understandings that come with buying local, eating fresh, and sharing best farming practices. The Farmers’ Market is a pathway to the economic side of the farming industry. Supply and demand greatly impacts how and what is grown as well as where and how it is sold. Food justice is about understanding that all foods are not grown equally, nor are they distributed fairly. Getting students to realize that they have the right to voice a demand for fresh, healthy foods in their neighborhoods instead of another mini-mart is the path to social justice. This unit is designed to start them (and us) on the path of demanding a better system of growing, selling, and buying fresh produce.
Growing More Than Food
The cadre of teachers comprised in this book come from all over our district. We live in a desert and we farm bountiful gardens. We work with our kids to get their hands dirty and their minds open to the possibilities that gardens bring. The garden grows persistence and grit. It grows compassion and caring. It grows strength and wisdom. It grows innovation and discoveries. It grows patience and understanding. Each grade level has built the stepping stones to growing a rich and healthy garden that provides all these things to our students, staff, families and community.
While I make no claim to be an expert now I can say that I am a farmer. I am a gardener.