|Renee and Heidi Do Donations|
Jonesboro is in Northeast Arkansas, an area that is relatively poor and rural with about 70% of the students coming from low income families. The city of about 90,000 is surrounded by large corporate farms - the kind that farm thousands of acres of soybeans, rice and cotton, often by corporate "farmers" who live elsewhere. The Jonesboro public school system established a magnet school program in 2007, revitalizing all of their elementary schools. Melinda Smith's school chose Health, Wellness and Environmental Studies (HWES) as their school focus.
|Melinda Smith and students in the Nutrition Lab|
Starting from scratch, coordinator Melinda and a team of seven teachers and administrators researched and visited other schools and programs with the belief that they could and would create a teaching garden and kitchen program for their school, even given huge obstacles. A large percentage of the students’ parents receive food stamps, do not garden, and believe the fresh produce is beyond their finances. Many students had absolutely no familiarity at all with fresh vegetables and hadn’t ever eaten even a carrot. Starting with three Bermuda grass infested courtyards and an abandoned former cafeteria, they transformed the school and trained their entire staff.
Now, just five short years later, their HWES School has a tiny greenhouse, three outdoor classrooms with over 20 raised beds, an outdoor kitchen area and a classroom sized kitchen. Garden areas are divided into The Harvest Garden, Sensory Garden and Critter Garden (with 3 chickens: Minervia, Fred and Ethel, and rabbits Oreo and Shadow) and the abandoned kitchen is revitalized as the Nutrition Lab. All of the schools’ 1st thru 6th grade students have regularly scheduled time dedicated to garden learning as part of their day-to-day curriculum and the gifted and talented program students in grades 3 thru 6 are totally in charge of garden planning and garden maintenance - there is no other garden help on staff.
In their growing garden’s “classroom”, kids learn lessons that incorporate basic science, math, nutrition and the environment. They not only learn how to grow things, but produce the vegetables and greens used in the "teaching kitchen" where they prepare and cook their produce to make and enjoy healthy meals. The kids held their first plant sale last year with seedlings grown in their own little greenhouse - imagine a stand where kids sell seedlings instead of lemonade. They produce all the vegetables and greens that are used in the “teaching kitchen” lab.
The original magnet grant is history, and they’ve been operating the program now for several years by bootstrapping supplies and resources. One of the huge challenges Melinda deals with, besides frantic and persistent grant-writing to keep the garden going for the kids, is to move ahead and expand the program. We want to help Melinda’s program grow and succeed, and I want to invite our customers and friends to join with us to make it happen.