Hi Kelsey, can you tell us a little about yourself and your role at Big Green? My role at Big Green is the Garden Educator for the Metro Denver schools. In this role I work closely with each school to help them achieve the vision that they have for their specific Learning Garden, ranging from different aspects such as impact, outcomes, community involvement, or integration with curriculum (often all of the above!). I have a background in education and a passion for nutrition through real food, so the Garden Educator role has been a spectacular fit.
Big Green is well-known for introducing Learning Gardens into schools. What impacts do you look for in the students and teachers who participate in the program? The high-level impact I see most is the way real food in the Learning Gardens is effective with changing the school food culture. When students grow an edible garden, they're able to approach vegetables and fruits with a sense of curiosity and empowerment that is often the base of a healthy lifestyle. The Learning Gardens are constructed as outdoor classrooms, which give teachers more opportunities to take their classes outside. Big Green supplies a full curriculum and additional standard-aligned lessons to make the most of these opportunities, as well as hands-on support from myself. We are constantly learning from our teacher and administration network of impacts with Big Green programming, but we continuously hear that the students are getting to be outside more, their attitudes toward fruits and vegetables drastically increase, and teachers enjoy utilizing the dynamic space, whether it's a science, math, reading, or writing lesson. One of my favorite impacts that I hear about often is how the Learning Garden is used for social-emotional health with students. They are spaces in which students can calm down, slow down, and take a breath. In several schools the garden is used for restorative justice practices and seen as a safe space for many people — not only students.
What kind of skills do Learning Gardens teach students? Learning Gardens teach students some of the most important life lessons that gardens can teach: patience (while growing) and diligence (watering every day, observing the growth, etc.). Through a more specific lens, the Learning Gardens teach students how food is grown. Every fall we see students' eyes light up as they pull a carrot from the garden. Not only did they learn that carrots grow underground, but they also come in an array of colors (same with potatoes, radishes, beets, etc.). They also are constantly testing their own hypotheses with the stages of plant growth and the current state(s) of the garden. The Learning Gardens also cultivate a space where students work together and learn from each other. It's a lot of space and work!
Do you see changes in community attitudes and values after introducing Learning Gardens? Absolutely. The attitude change we see most often is based around education; people just aren't aware of how easy it is to grow your own food. Parents and community members are key parts of our Garden Teams, and after a growing season with Big Green, adults are much more apt to a) plant their own garden at home and b) help build resiliency around the Learning Garden. The wonder and excitement that the students have when they grow, harvest, and eat their own produce is 100% contagious, and it takes the Learning Garden aspect and its impacts much further than the classroom.
You also have the Plant A Seed A Day Program. Can you tell us a little about that? Plant A Seed Day is a global campaign to get students, teachers, families, and individuals to take a simple action — plant a seed. To plant a seed is to plant hope, to make an investment in the future, and to show kids that growing healthy, real food is a powerful act. We established this in 2019 and it is celebrated on the first day of spring, March 19, 2020. You can learn more at Plant A Seed Day!
WishGarden Herbs is raising money to create a dedicated Herbal Wellness portion of Big Green's Learning Garden at GALS School in Denver. What do you think this will add to the Learning Garden program and do you often partner with businesses to develop Learning Gardens? The Herbal Wellness portion of the GALS Learning Garden is an exciting new programmatic piece for us. It is bringing the realm of holistic wellness to the Learning Garden that we haven't seen in this capacity before. While we do herbs in all of our Learning Gardens, it is generally with the intention of being edible first and holistic second. The WishGarden/Big Green collaboration will flip that on its head and allow students to explore growing herbal remedies on the forefront, and how they can make positive impact on their community with said herbs and knowledge. The GALS High School hit the ground running with their garden last spring, and is dedicated to community impact and improvement. I can't wait to see what they do and learn how we can bring this into more of our high school programming!
Where do you see the Learning Gardens Program ten years from now? I think we will be disrupting the school food culture at the national level (hopefully before 10 years!). Right now most schools use their produce in their cafeteria, which seems like it would be an easy process, but depending on the school, there can be a lot of red tape and impractical procedures. We work with schools at the individual level to go through certifications to allow their produce to be served in the cafeteria, and also at the district level to be a part of the bigger conversations regarding school lunches. I can't imagine where we'll be with those conversations in 10 years. It's exciting!
Lastly, as we enter the winter season do you have any advice for all the gardeners out there? Yes, plant your garlic, spinach and cilantro! We plant these crops in the Learning Gardens in late fall to over-winter, and they generally do very well. It is always a big boost to the spring garden, and the easiest growing season, as it requires very little watering. If you're ever wondering what to plant and when in Colorado, check out our Colorado Resources Page!
If you would like to donate to the Herbal Wellness Learning Garden For Kids, click here.
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