We have a confession to make: we’ve been keeping something quiet. It’s something pretty important, actually. But now that we have all of the details worked out and have connected with all of our local partners, we can fill everybody in:
We’re going to be building school gardens.
Some time ago, Slow Food USA told us that it was forming a National School Garden Program in conjunction with Chipotle, and that the program would fund approximately 100 school gardens around the country. They asked whether we’d like to be considered for part of the grant. Our energetic Slow Food in Schools chair, Cynthia Walters, jumped at the opportunity. Together with our Board, she worked out a proposal that would implement the best parts of school garden programs we’ve seen elsewhere. Some of the highlights include:
- Hoop houses, an inexpensive way of extending the growing season so that there’s more overlap with the school year.
- Curricular integration, to ensure that the food that students grow will become part of their education.
- Building a team of experts and volunteers to provide materials and guidance rather than simply building gardens, to ensure that selected schools have sufficient “buy-in” to keep the program going.
- Incorporating school volunteers into that team to allow them to “pay it forward” to more schools in the future.
Cynthia solicited applications for the program and selected three finalists: Westerville North High School, Columbus City Preparatory School for Girls, and Waggoner Road Junior High in Reynoldsburg. She also reached out to potential partner organizations and found them to be very receptive. As a result, Bill Dawson of the Franklin Park Conservatory, Eric Pawlowski of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), and Sue Hogan of The Ohio State University Extension–Franklin County will contribute to building the local school garden program. It’s a thrill, and a genuine honor, to be working with people who have devoted so much time and energy to the cause of improving food access in our community.
Our initial goal is modest but focused: we will work with the staff and students of the three schools mentioned above to install hoop house gardens and help ensure that those gardens are well integrated into the curriculum. Our hope is that these three gardens will serve as showcases that will, in turn, help build momentum for more gardens at more schools. In the long run, our more ambitious goal is to follow the pathbreaking model of Slow Food Denver, which has used its guidance-based model to reach more than 50 schools and over 10,000 students.
If you’d like to be a part of that effort as a volunteer, please let us know. And if you’d like to support it but don’t have the time to volunteer, please join or renew your membership today. Remember, although it’s a big effort, every little bit helps.