Campus gardens bear fruit in many ways and places
“‘Gardening’ is a simple word for such a big idea.” I am speaking to Christine Brinkmann, garden coordinator for St. Francis School in Goshen, Kentucky. One would be hard-pressed to find a more fervent champion of school gardens than Christine. Her unwavering dedication to linking the classroom to the outdoors is evident in the garden and farm-like setting she has established on St. Francis’s grounds.
“Every [academic] subject is accessible just by walking outside. It extends far beyond simply growing vegetables,” she says.
Indeed chickens, rabbits, peacocks and a turkey roam the vegetable beds surrounding the school, forming an idyllic setting, something that a select group of passionate teachers, parents and administrators from both the public and private school sectors dream of installing throughout the Jefferson County educational landscape. The lofty idea is that all schools would have their own dedicated gardens, vibrant and lush outdoor learning centers that better connect our children with where their food comes from, while simultaneously broadening their minds.
The State of School Gardens in Louisville
This article kicks off an in-depth look at the state of school gardens in Louisville, the first installment in an examination of the who, what, when, why and how of this hands-in-the-soil method of learning and what makes it so important.
We begin with a look at where we currently stand in terms of school gardens and how we arrived at this moment. Andrea Wright is the coordinator of nutrition initiatives for Jefferson County Public Schools and oversees JCPS’s school garden eff orts. Prior to 2010, garden programs were established in a handful of select schools thanks to independent grants and a few zealous teachers and parents.
Standardized support from above wasn’t in place until the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and its Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program agreed to partner with JCPS in an eff ort to combat obesity. This partnership came in the form of a grant funding the creation of 27 school gardens within 15 months. It was a whirlwind of a time for Andrea, who ensured all schools in the program were set up for success. Raised-bed gardening was mandated because of the unknown quality of the soil on school grounds, space constraints and to ensure gardens were handicap accessible. Andrea developed best practices for school wellness and using the gardens as a bridge to the classroom, drawing on teachers and experts across all disciplines to shape the recommendations. After that strong start, the CPPW grant expired in 2012, leaving some gardens more successful than others.
Indeed, this form of learning is fully hands-on and maintenance has been the primary challenge for those gardens that have been unable to sustain themselves. Already-strained teachers and parent volunteers can devote only so much time to keep the gardens going. The desire to reshape the traditional learning experience has remained, however, and a recent district survey reported 40 school gardens in the Louisville Metro. This growth has come thanks in large part to outside programs like the Food Literacy Project, Slow Food Bluegrass, the Farm-to-School Network and Food is Elementary, each playing a vital role in offering a variety of resources and grant opportunities to various JCPS gardens.
Ultimately it is up to the individual schools to determine how they integrate their garden program into the fabric of their schools. A shining example of hands-on education at work is Fern Creek High School, where teacher Joe Franzen blurs the lines between the classroom and the outdoors in a myriad of ways. We will get to know select school gardens in coming issues, exploring their classroom integration and how the gardens impact the school cafeterias. We will hear from key players in the school garden movement about why school gardens are so important to the growth of our children and the sustainability of our culture.
As Joe Franzen says, the point of the school garden is not to create farmers or chefs but to continue developing the whole person. When literal and figurative walls are removed, the ability to learn freely and fully can flourish.