Over the past decade, food has become one of the most important cultural issues in the United States.  Concerns about food sovereignty and food security have led to a general awareness and interest in local production of fruits and vegetables. Too, attention to obesity rates in children and the need to introduce a healthy diet in high poverty populations have grown significantly since the 1990's when a new foodism began to emerge in the United States. 

Schoolyard Gardens

One thread of this approach has centered on public schools, growing out of Alice Waters’ landmark Edible Schoolyard project at Martin Luther King Middle School in Oakland, California – but mimicking a much older tradition dating to the end of the 19th century – schoolyard gardens have played a role of connecting children to the natural sources of human sustenance and to the kind of attentive work necessary to make such systems thrive.  Through these efforts, Alice Waters launched a movement that has exposed kids and young adults across the country to delicious local foods and the healthy choices they presented.  Alice Waters is mother of the new schoolyard garden movement.

Others have taken these same efforts and enhanced the living classroom potential represented by schoolyard gardens.  In many cases, educators have realized that without much additional effort and with a little training and practice, these same schoolyard gardens can be lively sites of education in the sciences, mathematics, language arts, visual arts, and social studies. 

Food systems can in this way play a dual role: presenting living classrooms in which students are afforded engaging hands-on learning activities at the same time that they produce the elements of a food literacy.  

Successful farm to plate educational systems take the food literacy and food system transparency inherent in the farm to plate movement and marries it to the educational requirements of public schools.  They include schoolyard gardens where school children learn how to grow a vast cross-section of fruits and vegetables.  Visits to urban and rural farms to see food production at its source.  Lessons in supermarket literacy to help students learn how to create inexpensive and healthy meals.  They offer culinary and menu development skills based on fresh and local ingredients and they seek opportunities to engage students in all components of a healthy local food system.

Throughout all of these activities students are engaged in asking science, mathematics, and language arts and social studies questions.  For this reason, teachers in subjects other than agriculture or culinary arts are afforded multiple opportunities to integrate the food system activities into their curriculum.

Educational Value of School-Based Gardens

After more than two decades studying the impacts of educational schoolyard gardens, social scientists agree that these kind of educational spaces, when utilized as intentional teaching tools, produce significantly higher test scores and other learning outcomes, improve behavior, offer therapeutically valuable engagements, and motivate schoolchildren in their own education.

Greco Middle School

Because of the social and environmental resources available to Greco Middle School – its agriculture class, its culinary class, its community and school garden, its small animals, its proximity to the University of South Florida, its location in Temple Terrace, its growing season that overlaps with its academic calendar – this site represents a unique opportunity to stitch together existing elements into a coordinated farm to plate educational system that addresses educational support needs, food literacy needs, and that impacts community involvement.

In order for the Temple Terrace Farm to School Initiative to achieve its full potential, it will require the investment of municipal attention, the cooperation of school leadership, the investment of the Temple Terrace community, and a concerted focus on program outcomes.  With the promises already on the table, the potential is strong that this project will emerge successful and represent a model collaborative approach to children’s education in high-poverty schools.

 

How did Temple Terrace Farm 2 School get started?

In fall of 2011 Elizabeth Leib started working with Temple Terrace city council members Alison Fernandez and Grant Rimbey to organize an effort to establish a community garden. In October 2012 a new group of interested gardeners gathered, including Mike Pont, Dennis Killinger, Travis Malloy, Steve McBride, Jennifer Marshall, Lucretia and Michael Hilson, to launch the first community garden at Riverhills Park.

In the spring of 2012, Greco school principal Yinka Alege invited the group to set up a second community garden in the back schoolyard adjacent to the running track on the south side of the school. Part of the mission of the community garden at Greco is to bring more Temple Terrace residents who might not otherwise visit onto school property with the hope that there would be positive interactions between gardeners and students. It soon became clear to Leib, Fernandez and Rimbey that the fulfillment of this vision would require a new organization - one dedicated solely to creating opportunities for Greco students to spend time with college students and others in the community eager to contribute to student achievement.

For several years as part of its regular offerings, Greco Middle School has offered classes in culinary arts and agriculture and has a teacher for each of these subjects. In partnership with the Farm2School board, school administrators have agreed to encourage the two teachers to coordinate their efforts so that students experience growing and preparing healthy food. Farm 2 School builds on the success of the community gardens by working closely with Greco's agriculture and culinary arts teachers to support student gardens with materials and resources, organize volunteers to help out on workdays and to raise money for the program.