Jovial Concepts has been providing informal garden education in the Edgewater and Lakewood communities for almost three years now as part of the Jovial Gardens program. In that time, we have had all different types of volunteers and partners join us in our efforts to provide wholesome food for those who need it. From hosting missions for out-of-state faith based groups to corporate service days for juggernauts such as Dish Network, we have seen it all. But the groups we always enjoyed the most, were the elementary school children. In a single session of gardening you can change a youth's ideas about how they feel in regards to a certain vegetable, simply by making them feel involved.
With this in mind, we decided that it would be advantageous to reach out to local schools and inquire about the feasibility of starting an afterschool gardening program. Eagleton Elementary of the West Colfax corridor(a noted food desert) was the most enthusiastic about having our presence. They have a garden on the school grounds that was built ten years ago for use as an educational tool, but due to lack of support had been taken over by the community. Within a few short weeks of talks between ourselves, community members, and school staff, we had managed to develop a schedule for an enrichment program and outline a curriculum to be implemented.
We began our program by inquiring into what the students already knew about their food. The first activity we designed for them was to draw a neighborhood map. Not just any map, but specifically a map of where they get all their food on a day-to-day basis. While these maps were bright, colorful, and beautiful; we could not overlook a harsh reality. Map to map, we saw the same thing. King Soopers, Taco Bell, Denny's, McDonalds, and KFC were on most maps. Yet between two classes of 20 fourth graders there was one map with a garden, and one with a farmers' market. Immediately,we knew we were in the right place. It is imperative that we introduce our youth to the idea of eating fresh produce. Not only will it benefit their health, but as they grow into conscious consumers, it will benefit the health of their communities.
A few weeks later, we facilitated a lesson on square foot gardening. After we had explained to them the concept of square-foot gardening and how it works, we encouraged them to design their own gardens based off this principle on grids we had provided. With this information in hand, we then went out and compared it to our garden on the school grounds. Specifically, we looked at our patch of carrots. We could see alot of tops, however, as several students noted, there appeared to be too many for how much space we had. Thus, we began thinning them out to allow space for some of the smaller carrots to grow.
While their noting the density of the patch, and suggesting we take some was encouraging, what happened next was truly inspring. These students took complete ownership of their freshly picked carrots. Within minutes, they were all washing off their carrots and rushing to eat them. Even more surprising was that they were provided store-boughts carrots as a snack by the school, and those remained on the table as they munched on their carrots, some still with dirt in the grooves.
The moral of the story here is that you can use gardens to grow food surely. But when you put them on a schools grounds you can help to cultivate not only fruits and vegetables, but also curiosity and a healthy lifestyle.
Eagleton Elementary Garden