Tucked in the middle of a mixed commercial and residential area of New Orleans still struggling to recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, is Carter G. Woodson Middle School − a state of the art public charter school known as Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Central City Academy.
As I wandered through the garden taking pictures and preparing for guests to arrive for the Greenhouse Garden Club ribbon cutting ceremony, I was intrigued by the markers made by students identifying the plants in the beds and statements about working hard and respecting the garden.
“Hello miss! Our teacher sent us out here to keep you company,” said seventh-grader Keyira Powell. She was accompanied by another student, Clifton Desilva who mostly stood in silence while Keyira − clearly a school ambassador – eagerly began telling me about the gardening club.
When Clifton began talking about planting and watering the tomatoes in the garden and the new rocks he had put out along the sidewalk, he came to life.
“Are the rocks to keep people like me out of the garden?” I asked. “Well, yes,” he said, “but mostly it’s to try to keep the kids out. This is where we play, but they need to respect the garden.”
He continued telling me how he’s learned so much that his mother was inspired to start a garden at their home, and how she drives him to the garden club meetings on Sundays.
“Sundays? Do you live nearby?” I asked. “No,” he replied. “We live across the river; my Mom brings me here on Sunday afternoons to work.”
I was dumbfounded. A child and a parent that are so dedicated to learning gardening and understanding where their food comes from − something so foreign to some in the city, yet so simple to many of us − that they dedicate a Sunday afternoon to come across the river to work in a school garden was inspirational.
During the ribbon cutting on the greenhouse, Dr. Joe Leonard, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, spoke of the importance of connecting kids with healthy food, understanding where food comes from and laying the foundation for young people to grow into healthy adults.
As he reminisced on his time as an educator in the New Orleans school system, I began to understand the special significance this particular greenhouse had for him. USDA has provided grants for many schools across the country for these greenhouses, and Dr. Leonard had visited several, but this one clearly was special.
Special Education instructor and Garden Club sponsor Elora Turner, spoke about what the garden meant to the school, the students and the philosophies of the teaching methods at KIPP.
“A successful garden must have plants with a healthy root system. You start with a good foundation, or root system, for the students in the form of mentors in the community willing to volunteer their time and share their knowledge, partners willing to provide grants such as USDA and parents and teachers that encourage the students to grow. Not only are they learning the growing process of plants, they are learning where their food comes from and healthy eating habits,” said Elora.
She went on to say that even problems in the classroom can be turned into success in the garden, where patience, trial and error, and responsibility can be learned.
There are inherent life lessons learned in the garden. The students are learning from their mistakes and celebrating small successes.
I didn’t want to leave, or the children to go back to class, because they were so captivating and excited about their garden.
And it made me proud that we were a part of something that could truly influence a young mind in the form of a simple school garden.
To see interviews and video of the garden, visit This Week in Louisiana Agriculture at www.twilatv.org or see the clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsLMwGO8pAM&feature=player_embedded.
KIPP New Orleans Schools' School Food Authority, the Healthy School Foods Collaborative (HSFC), serves a range of independent charter schools and charter management organizations across the city of New Orleans. The HSFC will work to develop a plan for the implementation of a full farm to school model by researching and facilitating partnerships between all actors in the supply chain and developing best ‐ practices based educational programming with a focus on local foods in schools.