Edible Schoolyards Feed Hungry Minds

photo courtesy Ivy Tech

by Jonathan R. Arbuckle

“It was great to be able to give back to the community; doing so gave me a great sense of pride. The garden is helping to fill a gap between our generation and a younger generation. We came together with elementary students to plant, maintain, and harvest food that helped our local community.” —Justin

Justin is a college student in Ivy Tech’s Associate Accelerated Program (ASAP) and an avid member of the Garden Project at George Washington Carver School 87, one of the Indianapolis Public Schools. Like many others in his community, he grew up disconnected from a local sustainable food system. This Garden Project, along with others in the city, is linked via an international network through the Edible Schoolyard Project (ESYP). Founded in Berkeley, California, 20 years ago, ESYP strives to build and share an edible education curriculum for K–12 schools and beyond. Through the ESYP network of affiliated garden and kitchen programs, educators can share curriculum ideas and participate in professional development that helps all students learn life skills such as communication, nutrition, community stewardship, and of course, the tools needed to grow local sustainable food.

School 87’s Garden Project is a local member of ESYP and a frequent contributor to the organization’s Voices of the Movement blog. The Garden Project allows students to experience the origins of food and learn collaboratively.

This project is unique because students from both schools share similar socioeconomic backgrounds: 100 percent of the students at School 87 qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and the majority of Ivy Tech’s ASAP students receive federal Pell Grants and state aid to attend school. Both institutions are located in food deserts (areas lacking access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other whole foods). Many students at both schools regularly have meals from fast-food establishments or convenience stores. Ivy Tech’s ASAP Program is grounded in the belief that food education in the garden is the first step toward building stronger communities in Indianapolis. Project goals are to teach students where food comes from and to empower them to be healthy, educated individuals. This is accomplished by linking the garden to curriculum outcomes and by fostering teamwork between ASAP and the elementary students.

According to Thomas England, an assistant professor in Ivy Tech’s hospitality program, “The gardens are part of three different classes in the program. Ivy Tech students learn about nutrition, sustainability, and plant diversity in those sessions.” Additionally, England said Ivy Tech’s café uses produce from the garden in the food they serve to the public.

The garden space allows for active, hands-on learning of curricular objectives outlined by both institutions. For example, because School 87 is a Montessori program, young learners are encouraged to physically experience science lessons. As Alexis, a second-grader, describes it, “I learned that roots are under the soil. The roots get the plants some water and that makes the plants grow and grow and grow. When you grow a seed they start as little plants and then they get so, so big.” Curriculum links are also made at the college level, from coursework in creative writing to fieldwork in anthropology. Ragan, an ASAP garden volunteer, said, “By learning how to communicate with children in the garden, I was better prepared to learn about cultural relativism and how to communicate with people from other cultures.” Within this unique curriculum, relationships are based around growing food. A symbiotic process is at work: college students gain valuable experience volunteering and giving back in their own communities while also gaining knowledge about local sustainable food, and the elementary students learn about the importance of healthy food and the significance of higher education.

The Garden Project cultivates teamwork between ASAP and the elementary students as they participate in a process that leads to new knowledge and sustainable change and creates a virtuous cycle of learning and sharing. When students get their hands dirty, they have deeper insights, retain learning better, and are more likely to extend the application of knowledge beyond the garden classroom. Watch this local food-focused collaboration nourish Indianapolis communities for years to come.

Jonathan Arbuckle is the associate director of curriculum and instruction for ASAP at Ivy Tech’s Midtown campus on Fall Creek Parkway.