Last Wednesday I had my last scheduled program as an AmeriCorps member. My final garden club meeting at Valley Elementary had the highest attendance of students and parents of all nights this summer. My goal for my year of service was to leave the NFV school district a little better than I found it, in regards to health and wellness. I can confidently say that through the work and collaboration on the Valley Elementary School Garden, I have achieved this goal. As I watched the families walk away with bags full of tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers, I quickly remembered all of the steps taken and people who made this harvest party possible. Together, we grow healthy kids.
When I first looked at the Valley garden in the fall, the large raised bed looked abandoned. Nothing had been planted in the spring, and there were no signs that students had gotten their little hands dirty planting seeds or picked fresh vegetables throughout the summer to take home. This would be one of my main projects for the year, bringing the garden to life and finding resources and tools necessary to make the garden more usable and accessible to students and teachers.
Mrs. Smith had worked with the Food and Fitness Resource Contacts in the past, and she was the champion who enabled me to accomplish so much at Valley this year. Before we even established our little garden committee she had already applied for the Garden is the Way to Grow composting grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture to incorporate food waste education into her science curriculum. With her help, we held a few garden committee meetings with school and community members that gave me the platform I needed to express the value of garden education and determine what was necessary to make the garden less intimidating for teachers.
Since Valley’s garden had not been utilized in recent years, I knew there were resources and tools they would need for use as a classroom and upkeep. With help from the committee I applied for and received two grants from the Palmer Memorial Foundation and Farm Credit Services of America. We truly appreciate their financial support of health and hunger related community projects! These funds were used to buy a class set of hand tools, books, materials for lessons, snacks for our garden club, and other items to keep use of the garden growing for years to come.
These purchases enabled Mrs. Smith and I to get started in the garden with the 4th/5th graders toward the end of the school year and also host a Summer Garden Club held once a week in the evening during the same weeks as summer school. Many of the same families that attended our hour long program also volunteered to monitor the garden for a week during the summer. We had a family from Valley volunteer to check and water the garden every week this summer! This maintenance would have been difficult alone, but it was great to see support of this project from the community.
|After we finished mulching around the bed the other day I felt the sense of accomplishment I had been waiting for. The garden looked official, like it was meant to be there. It was meant for learning, exploring, teaching, and growing, and now teachers and students at Valley are better equipped to enjoy all of the things a school garden has to offer. I’m excited for the 4th graders to return as 5th graders this fall and see the vegetables growing from the seeds they planted in the spring. I’m eager to hear what the staff thinks about the revamped space and new resources. I hope families continue to visit the garden in the summer, and I’m happy to leave knowing that I left the garden at Valley a little bit better than I found it.|