Edible Schoolyard: Roots Growing Deeper, Stronger
You can support The Food Literacy Project
at their Field-to-Fork Dinner & Auction,
Sept. 15, Thurs. 5:30–9pm.
As my dive into the world of school gardens continues, what I find most inspirational is the ingenuity of those who champion this cause. While we have visited gardens being cultivated on school grounds, it is becoming ever more apparent that there are agents of change throughout our community, programs established outside of Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) which are helping to strengthen the foundation of our burgeoning belief that the garden is the key to a healthier, more well-rounded society.
Farmer Ivor Chodkowski recognized the demand for the use of gardens as teaching tools over 10 years ago. A regular vendor at farmers’ markets throughout the city, Ivor found requests for farm field trips by local teachers who shopped at his stand to become increasingly common. He happily opened his farm to the community and instantly discerned that there was a void to fill.
Thus, The Food Literacy Project was born. Ten years later, the FLP has become a vital resource for educators, students and families alike. Based on 10 acres of farmland directly behind Oxmoor Country Club, FLP shares a home with Oxmoor Farm. On a recent visit, it was a refreshing surprise to find the rolling fields of this farm tucked within a tee shot of traditional suburbia. The subdivision one must drive through to access the farm soon falls away, replaced by swaths of farmland.
My visit happened to fall on the first day of the FLP summer program called Youth Community Agriculture Program (YCAP), a seven week program for youth ages 16–19. Teens must apply for a placement within YCAP and serve as members of the farm crew, helping to grow, cultivate and sell the produce of Oxmoor Farm. Additionally, student crew members are tasked with marketing the vegetables they bring to the farmers’ market, they investigate food justice issues within the community and they learn to cook the vegetables they grow. An outdoor kitchen sits amongst the trees of the farm, an idyllic setting for learning about the various vegetables that are unfamiliar to most students when they enter the program.
Deandrae Hughes had no concept of what made up a working farm or the value of fresh produce in our society when he first joined YCAP five years ago. He has since become a fixture of the program, completing four years of work, and is now a YCAP staff member.
While the farm setting was entirely unfamiliar to Deandrae, he said there was something about being connected to the earth that touched him. He quickly went from not giving a second thought about what he put in his body to caring greatly about eating a nutritious diet. Deandrae has his sights set on the food deserts of our community now, and is cultivating plans to develop urban gardens in the corners of Louisville that need fresh, nutritious food most.
Deandrae is an example of the power of learning through gardening and the FLP is determined to inspire the youth of our community. A variety of educational programs are available to help schools bring the garden into their classrooms. Programs range from a one-day visit to the FLP’s Youth Learning Garden to an intensive 12-week after-school program that involves the student’s family.
There are three goals for every farm visit: Get your hands dirty, try something new and show respect for and take care of something. Classes that are unable to visit the farm can arrange for the FLP’s “truck farm” to come to them. Serving as a mobile teaching tool, the bed of the truck is filled with soil, in which a variety of vegetables and flowers flourishes as it makes it way throughout the community.
As an invaluable resource to our community, the FLP celebrates its 10th anniversary by looking ahead, thinking critically about the most effective way to grow. Is it breadth or depth? Do they touch more people or spend more time with each person they have the opportunity to touch? No matter the trajectory of their growth, there is little doubt that the FLP’s mission will continue to make an impact on our community and that it will grow the most impactful agents of change of all: our children.