Taking root

Kearny Elementary’s new community garden expands Cooking with Kids program

The currently-empty flower beds were built and raised in late September, and next spring can’t come soon enough for students and teachers waiting to see a blooming garden at Kearny Elementary School.

The newly-built community garden at Kearny will soon become central to the school’s hands-on food and nutrition program, Cooking with Kids, bringing farming concepts to Kearny students of all grades to bolster the school’s knowledge of health, science and nutrition education goals.

Clare Price, a local farmer working for Cooking with Kids, will be tending to the garden, which has been placed directly outside the door of the Cooking with Kids classroom.

“I think it’ll be really cool to be able to take the kids from the Cooking with Kids classroom right out the door to really see some of the stuff we’re talking about,” Price tells SFR. “We show them pictures of plants or farmers, but I think if the kids haven’t actually seen that before, it’s still kind of abstract. I just think it [the garden] will make it a lot easier to pick up a lot of those concepts.”

Talking about her experience teaching Cooking with Kids classes, she adds, “It’s fun to watch the kids try new things together, and as a farmer, I do find it really rewarding for them to try new foods. It’s really gratifying to see them be really excited when they cook something; it’s so cute.”

Volunteers built Kearny’s garden in just three hours on Sept. 23, using materials funded through a Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation grant that gifted 24 qualifying schools in the country with community gardens.

“We would not have been given this grant, I don’t believe, had we not been collaborating very diligently with Cooking with Kids,” Kearny Principal Jonathan Davis tells SFR.

Davis says Taleia Monty, a former Kearny teacher who became assistant program director of Cooking with Kids, was a major influence in Kearny Elementary’s application for the Sprouts community garden grant.

“We’ve been working with Sprouts for a long time now—Cooking with Kids has,” Monty says. “They have been a great supporter, in even just procuring ingredients and produce for our classes.”

After applying for the grant, Monty met with Davis to talk about how to best integrate the garden into the current curriculum. Price was asked for her input in designing the garden, as she has farming experience dating back to 2010.

“I like working with things that are alive—children and plants—and I like being outside all day long,” Price says. “All those things are pretty appealing.”

While the initial build for the garden was completed by the volunteers a few weeks back, Price’s plan for the garden can’t come into fruition until the next planting season. She says when in full bloom, the garden will be bordered by native herbal and medicinal plants and a “very small orchard” of about three full-sized trees.

Vegetables to be included in the garden would sync up with the Cooking with Kids units, similarly to the way the program uses existing community gardens at the Amy Biehl, Aspen and Chaparral elementary schools.

She also plans to include a few small “waffle gardens” as a nod to the Zuni Pueblo community’s farming traditions, which use dirt raised above the ground with divots throughout the garden to conserve water. Davis, who formerly lived and worked at the pueblo, expressed full support for Price’s idea, and the two plan to contact Zuni farmers to discuss the best way to use the waffle gardens.

“Our main plan is that the farmer, Clare, she’s going to be working to collaborate with the teachers at the different grade levels and work in their science and social studies units to see what the kids are studying,” he continues. “So, in fourth grade, it would be New Mexico history, so that might be a really great grade to study waffle gardens, so they can understand some of the local Native traditions around gardening.”

Students of all grades learn a myriad of recipes through Cooking With Kids bimonthly, in 1.5-hour sessions in the Cooking with Kids classroom, which is equipped as a full kitchen. By the end of this year, Kearny students will have learned to make watermelon pizza, stovetop pizza, tricolore salad, potato pancakes with applesauce and Indian lentils with carrot rice pilaf.

“Kids that have trouble sometimes in more academic subjects, they get to really shine at Cooking with Kids,” Price says of the program. “It’s the ‘fun’ class. Everyone’s always having a good time, and it’s really nice.”

While the initial build is complete, the garden will need to be worked on throughout the year to be fully functional. Additionally, Cooking with Kids has committed to maintaining the garden throughout the summer to prevent the garden from falling into disrepair.

“What you see with a lot of community garden projects that happen, especially in schools around the city, is there’s some initial interest, and it’s often driven by one staff member or a group of them, and those people maybe leave over time,” Davis explains. “The other thing that happens is that gardens are built, and then they’re not cared for and maintained over the summer, because school is shut down over the summer.”

With Price’s commitment to keeping the garden in check, Davis says, “When our kids come back in the fall, they’re going to see this big, beautiful garden that’s growing in August.”

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