Written by Slow Food USA intern Meghan Offtermatt
What’s more important than teaching kids the importance of good, clean, and fair food? Teaching kids how to plant, grow, and harvest it! Slow Food Miami embraced the need to help students learn the benefits of gardening and growing their own food with their recent initiative to plant 44 school gardens in 44 days.
The process of applying for a Slow Food Miami edible garden begins when schools and organizations apply for garden grants between January and April of each year. Then, the Slow Food Miami board of directors meets with school’s directors and administrators who will be in charge of overseeing the garden. Finally, the board assesses location, enthusiasm, and the vision of the potential garden before purchasing the first round of supplies. Before the planting process begins, Slow Food Miami has a teacher education training, where they provide the teachers with a shopping list and gift card. On the day of the initial planting, teachers, students, and Slow Food Miami volunteers come together to bring the garden to fruition.
Although the program is an ongoing effort, Slow Food Miami launched a special initiative this past year to help meet the increase in grant applications. The initiative, called 44 Gardens in 44 Days, set out to plant as many gardens as possible in a limited number of days, the minimum number being 44 gardens. With the help of Ready-To-Grow Gardens, led by organic garden designer Dylan Terry, and a crew of volunteers and community members, Slow Food Miami exceeded the goal by 30%, planting 63 gardens in the course of 44 days. Since September of this year, Slow Food Miami has installed 76 school garden beds and 15 community garden beds for a total of 91 gardens in Miami-Dade County. In addition to this, 25 school beds were put in since 2007 that have moved on and “graduated” out of the Slow Food Miami program.
Once has a garden has been installed, Slow Food Miami helps provide troubleshooting, tips, and guidance for the teachers and students throughout the growing season and harvest. In addition to this, the Director of Gardens and Director of Education conduct educational outreach with the participating schools. After the garden has been in place for a year, Slow Food Miami supplies the garden with a second round of seeds for the next growing season.
Over time, Slow Food Miami has learned that it’s crucial that the garden space have sufficient access to sunlight and water. In addition to this, it is important to have support from parents, teachers, and the administrators of the school, as well as support from the school maintenance crew, as they often play a large role in maintaining the health of the gardens during breaks.
Although the process can sometimes be challenging, and even unpredictable, the payoff from planting these gardens is well worth the effort. Many schools have gone so far as to create their own farmers markets from their gardens. Schools have replaced bake sales with smoothie sales, implementing fresh fruits and vegetables. Herbs from the gardens have been used to create soaps and infused oils. Schools have increased their number of beds from one or two to six or seven beds, and the knowledge and awareness of food has increased tremendously. Students are now learning to appreciate the value of good, clean, and fair food, and with the help of Slow Food Miami, this program isn’t slowing down any time soon!