Planting Seeds for Grassroots Agriculture, Design, and Education
You know the saying “it takes a village to raise a child?” As an education architect I’ve always believed this to be true, but since becoming a parent I understand this more than ever. For my little family, our “village” is family, friends, and our school. Our school does so much for our kids, and for us as parents. It is helping us lay the foundation for my children’s upbringing, not only from an educational standpoint but for their health and wellbeing. Combining my passions for education and environmental stewardship through my DLR Group professional development grant (PDG), I studied how design and gardening in our schools can have a profound impact on our children. My project, Raising Sustainable Natives, implemented a garden to table concept at Trinity Downtown School in Orlando, Florida.
Prior to Raising Sustainable Natives, I had been involved with several volunteer organizations tackling childhood obesity. Across the United States, over one-third of our children are overweight or obese. No matter race, religion, educational background, or socioeconomic status, we all can be impacted by obesity. Our schools are a great place to help educate young minds on the importance of knowing where food comes from, and we can improve the average number of hours our nation spends on nutrition education in our schools: 3.4 hours per year are dedicated this topic, which equals less than half a minute a day.
As an industry, architecture, engineering, and construction are working together to make the built environment more sustainable. We have multiple ways to prove a building is sustainable through rating systems such as LEED, Green Globes, the Living Building Challenge, and more. One of the newer rating systems largely focuses on the health and wellness of building occupants. The WELL Building Standard takes a holistic approach to the built environment and how it impacts health and wellness through a seven areas of focus: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind.
If you read the Nourishment section of the WELL Building Standard, you will find information related to food production: “Gardening or cultivation of produce and herbs increases access to healthy, fresh, and nutrient-rich foods, and allows individuals to be more engaged in food production processes.” The WELL Building Standard continues by elaborating how gardening can help combat obesity and contribute to lower body mass index (BMI).
Though the WELL Building Standard was developed for commercial office applications, the idea of focusing on nourishment in our schools through gardening makes perfect sense. It’s rare to have a school bring fresh and healthy foods to our children due to numerous regulations; processed produce seems to be the answer. We can empower our schools to not only implement a garden, but to introduce the crops from that garden into its food stream.
I was very fortunate to have the Childhood Development Center (CDC), the K-8 School, and the Church support my idea; they had been actively planning to improve the healthy meals they offered at the school. I was awarded my PDG in January 2017 with only a few weeks left to plant seeds for the planting season. I found a local partner in Fleet Farming, which helps turn lawns into urban farms. By bringing a community partner into the process, we designed and constructed our garden within five weeks of being awarded the grant. While we awaited our first harvest, I worked with the school on ideas to introduce the garden to the school community. We developed a garden challenge where students studied various gardens and how crops grow. Students from the CDC tended the garden, weeding, watering, and watching. In early May 2017, we celebrated our first harvest. A local popsicle vendor used kale and basil from the garden in popsicles for the kids, and we had tasting stations for the remainder of our crops. From our first harvest, we served over 4,000 salads and 230 garden snacks. Nearly, one year after establishing the garden, we have served over 10,890 servings to our students.