Sacramento, CA: Urban gardens feed appetite for education,self-reliance
- Subject: [cg] Sacramento, CA: Urban gardens feed appetite for education,self-reliance
- From: email@example.com
- Date: Sat, 16 Sep 2006 12:18:12 -0400
Urban gardens feed appetite for education, self-reliance
By Cynthia Hubert, SACRAMENTO BEE
NO DOUBT about it, Xante Mitchell said with a sigh, this farming business is hard work.
Moving along a freshly tilled row of collard greens, a light sweat began to form on Xante's forehead as he clipped and bunched, clipped and bunched, clipped and bunched.
"It's not all fun, but I like it a lot," the middle schooler said. "Fruits and vegetables are good for the soul."
Good for the soul, and the palate, and the community. That's the idea behind Soil Born Farm, a lush oasis amid an urban jungle in the heart of California's capital.
This summer, in a project funded by Kaiser Permanente and modeled after a groundbreaking program in Berkeley, Xante and other students at Jonas Salk Middle School in Sacramento learned some lasting lessons in the power of growing, distributing and enjoying fresh organic food.
Urban kids across the country have diets heavy in processed foods. But through the gardening project, Jonas Salk students developed a new appreciation for fresh produce by following it from the soil to the table.
On about 2 acres of land adjacent to the school, they planted, nursed and harvested organic fruits and veggies, which later found their way onto plates at fancy restaurants, into grocery store bins, and inside the kitchens of students, staffers and grateful neighbors.
"That's the best part," said Xante. "Helping people. Giving back."
Part of a growing national movement to use urban farms as educational tools, the Soil Born program is designed to teach children and the larger community healthier eating habits. It is patterned after The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, which was founded by renowned chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse.
Jonas Salk's principal, Jaime Schrey, said she hopes to make the program a permanent part of the school's curriculum. "Eventually, we're going to bring some of the food to our cafeteria," she said. Program founders want to start similar programs at other schools in the Sacramento area, and plan to launch a second farm next year in nearby Rancho Cordova.
"We want to help young people really connect with the food they are consuming, and to help them understand the impact on their health and the environment," said Shawn Harrison, who with Marco Franciosa founded Soil Born Farm in 2000 as a business enterprise and later decided to turn it into a community project. Soil Born gained nonprofit status in 2004, and last year hooked up with Jonas Salk.
"These days there is not a lot of interaction between the farmer and the consumer," Harrison said. "It's so important for people to see where their food comes from and how it's grown."
Waters, the guru of sustainable and organic agriculture, started The Edible Schoolyard a decade ago in collaboration with Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley. Since then, similar "farm to school" programs have sprung up across the country, from Montana to Florida.
School gardens, Waters has said, give students a better understanding of how the natural world sustains us, and promote
environmental and social well being.
"Kids today are bombarded with a pop culture that teaches redemption through buying things," the chef said in a 1997 speech at a national conference titled A Garden in Every School.
"School gardens, on the other hand, turn pop culture upside down. They teach redemption through a deep appreciation for the real, the authentic and the lasting. Things that money can't buy. Kids who learn environmental and nutritional lessons through school gardening learn ethics."
Children who take part in such programs, Waters said, learn about the
health benefits of eating well and are less likely to become overweight or develop illnesses related to obesity, such as diabetes.
Largely hidden, but just off a busy street, the Soil Born Farm location may seem like an unlikely spot for growing and harvesting crops. The property was little more than a patch of weeds when Harrison and Franciosa, whose backgrounds are in history but who share a love of farming, approached its owner, Betsy Collins, with a proposal. They offered to farm her sandy loam in exchange for supplying her with as much fresh produce as she could eat.
Collins agreed, and soon Soil Born began selling goods produced on the land to the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Whole Foods Market and restaurants. The farm also started growing food for individual families who each week pick up boxes of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, lettuces, eggplant and whatever else happens to be in season.
After the program gained nonprofit status, Soil Born began chatting up teachers and administrators at the middle school, which shares a fenceline with the farm property. "We said, 'Let's get something going,' " Harrison recalled. "This was the perfect spot for a farm that could contribute to a healthier community."
Late last year, Kaiser Permanente gave the project a
$30,000 Healthy Eating, Active Living grant. Jonas Salk students now can get school credits for taking part in the gardening program.
Xante Mitchell enrolled in this year's summer school class, and he and several other students loved it so much that they kept gardening for weeks after the session ended. A new group of students will take over in the fall.
The youths work under the supervision of adult volunteers and Soil Born staffers, including Randy Stannard, who helped Xante and his schoolmates harvest and distribute vegetables during the dog days of August. They learned organic practices such as composting, and techniques for dealing with aphids and other pests without using chemicals. They tended to chickens and collected their eggs. They took cooking classes and made dishes, including vegetable fried rice, featuring the fruits of their labor. Besides working the land, the young farmers learned leadership and public speaking skills, set up a farm stand to distribute produce to senior citizens in the area and hauled bags of fruits and vegetables to people confined to their homes in a nearby housing complex for the elderly and disabled.
"The seniors love the tomatoes," said Stannard on a recent morning as he helped Xante and another student, Samantha Erickson, harvest tiny, sugary Sungold tomatoes from a row of towering vines. "But they rave about all of our produce."
Xante wowed his own family members with freshly harvested carrots and tomatoes that they ate with roasted chicken, he said.
"In my neighborhood not a lot of people have quality stuff like this," Xante said, holding up a bunch of collard greens. "They get their food at corner stores. Our organic stuff is better for you. It tastes more natural."
E-mail Cynthia Hubert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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