Edible Schoolyard Project Aims to Reclaim Education

by Ellen C. Warren

Coming Soon To a School Near YOU! Fresh, homegrown, yummy, nutritious food! That is, if the Food Reclamation Society has its way.

Stephanie Phillips, Nicole Penick and Ginger Lee, founders of the Food Reclamation Society, have a vision. It begins with a garden space with raised beds and a greenhouse (to allow yearround harvesting and involvement) covering an area of Pierce Elementary School’s grounds. The school children would participate in nearly all aspects of the project, from helping to choose what to plant, to planting, to the care and maintenance of the garden, to the harvesting of the produce, and more. They would also get to eat the food they’ve grown. The plan is to begin with snacks, with a view toward eventually providing lunch and then, ideally, all food.

At the time of this writing the project is still in its proposal phase but has the verbal support of several Pierce School faculty members as well as students’ families. If all goes well, and the plan is accepted, it is hoped that this “Edible Schoolyard Project” will serve as a model for many more in the Milwaukee urban area.

The idea of using a school-based garden space for the nourishment of the minds, bodies and spirits of children is a new concept in our vicinity, but has already been frontiered in numerous locations here and abroad. Reported results of improving the quality of food eaten include calmer, better-behaved students and higher test scores. The young people’s involvement in the entire process promotes not only an understanding of where food comes from and what it takes to get there, but also develops a sense of ownership and pride in the work they do to nurture the process, thus engendering responsibility.

Our present urban school lunches are derived mainly from government surplus food commodities. These foods are highly processed and provide more caloric content through fats (over 30%) than is recommended in the MPS nutritional guidelines. The introduction of unprocessed and barely processed foods into the diets of children is of benefit not only in mitigating the rampant increase of childhood obesity but also supplying real nourishment to “brains at their peak, at their perfect point for learning and absorbing knowledge,” as Stephanie Phillips puts it. The ultimate goal,” explains Stephanie, “is to improve the educational environment.”

Another aspect of the plan will be to incorporate the garden into the curriculum as a “three dimensional classroom.” Science, math, and social studies classes, for example, will be engaged in the design of the garden and choice of crops as well as planting. “We really want the kids to have a good say in it,” Nicole Penick emphasizes.

There are plans to develop curriculum on nutrition, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy for the classroom. A summer school program will be offered due to the seasonality of the curriculum.

The Food Reclamation Society has developed several community partners, including Milwaukee Urban Gardens who they list as collaborators on this project. Wellspring and Rare Earth Farms are also on board. These two CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms will help by providing extra produce, some in exchange for students’ labor (some paid summer jobs for teens are part of the project), and being available to the elementary students for field trips. The group also will work with Growing Power for soil, compost and the acquisition of a greenhouse.

In matters financial, the ambition of the Food Reclamation Society is to be entirely self-supporting. They’ve received their first grant, with Ginger Lee’s skillful help, from Public Allies. In addition, they intend to sell some of the surplus produce they glean from the CSAs at farmers markets.

What better way to celebrate the earth than to teach the kids how to grow their own food?

For more information: search Food Reclamation Society (model) (school lunches & the challenges and success of model projects in Great Britain)

Riverwest Currents online edition – April, 2007