Corn, beans and cucumbers are growing in rows behind All Saints Academy’s middle school at St. Jude Catholic parish in Grand Rapids. You can find eggplant, basil and peppers, too. Students, along with community members, cultivate this garden through a rich, hands-on learning opportunity.
Students gave tours of their garden on Tuesday, August 29. They showed where they harvested potatoes earlier in the season and where they’re leading beans along a trellis. See photos in the gallery below or at this link.
Since early spring, the Urban Roots organization has been guiding the young green thumbs and teaching them both the hands-on skills required for working the earth and the teamwork needed for caring for their crops.
Urban Roots program director Jenny Bongiorno says she often finds people don’t feel any connection to where their food comes from, so teaching them how to produce some of it leads to a greater appreciation for it. The community connection, though, is even more important to her.
“Growing food in collaboration with other people, actually having a community of people get cultivated alongside the garden, is really the special part,” said Bongiorno. “They’re learning together, checking in with each other. The shared burden and responsibility teaches a lot of good lessons.”
All Saints Academy middle school principal Abby Giroux says she has seen exactly those impacts on students and neighbors.
“Urban Roots has been a blessing for our garden,” Giroux said. “We’ve learned so much about how to use the space better; we’ve learned about rotating crops in and out. They’ve also helped us foster community connections. We’ve had a couple people from the parishes and greater community who come and join us on program nights. They’re learning, they’re getting information to take back -- but they’re also taking some of our produce back and helping us at the same time.”
From seeing students’ wonder at pulling carrots out of the ground instead of off a store shelf, to discussing with students how food doesn’t need to look perfect in order to be delicious, Giroux said the whole experience has led students to look for new opportunities related to the garden. They’ve embraced design thinking challenges like developing rain barrels to irrigate the garden. They also express interest in selling the produce at a farmer’s market, although the harvest isn’t yet consistent enough for that.
The students describe their work in the garden as empowering, inspiring and informative.
“Working in the garden is a cool experience because you get to learn more about plants, how they grow and what they need to be healthy so that we can get good produce,” said 8th grader Hannah. “It’s been fun.”
Aidan, another 8th grader, agrees. “Working in the garden has been a really good experience because we’ve learned to do hard work and make the garden the way that we want to. I also really like that we get to have our food that we made ourselves at lunchtime some times.”
Their classmate Emily finds it a wonderful experience, too. “I really enjoy knowing that I helped do this -- get food for people -- and being able to see how it progresses.”
As it progresses, you just might find these delicious fruits and vegetables at a local farmer's market some day.
Grant funding from World Renew supports the Urban Roots organization's work with All Saints Academy.