Hello from Oregon! As a second-year FoodCorps service member here, I have quickly realized that one of the greatest strengths of Oregon’s school garden movement is its commitment to building a thriving community of school garden practitioners. From Portland, down to Ashland – a small town on the border of California- and over to Baker City on the easternmost edge of the state, school garden projects grow for many different reasons. Each year, Oregon’s diverse group of school garden educators and farm to school advocates have the chance to meet and trade ideas at the annual Oregon School Garden Summit.
Held January 30th in Salem, Oregon, the summit was paired with its sister event, the Oregon Farm to School Summit. Both events are hosted by the Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network [OFSSGN], and offered 300+ school garden supporters a varied menu of inspiring speakers, workshops, and roundtable discussions. Aspiring gardeners could attend a three part workshop series on building your garden program, studying everything from site design to setting learning objectives in the garden. Educators with more seasoned programs were able to go deeper, attending sessions examining school garden case studies from around the state, exploring school gardens in the context of poverty and hunger, and sharing best practices for fundraising and engaging the greater school community.
As I moved from session to session, a few common themes in the day’s conversations became apparent:
Evaluation is Essential: As the school garden movement in Oregon matures, it is becoming increasingly important to find ways to measure our success. Telling the story of our garden programs, both quantitatively and qualitatively, will be increasingly essential to driving effective policy change and increasing local, state, and federal funding for school garden projects. One of the summit’s highlights was the keynote presentation, where Portland state professor Dilafruz Williams presented a review of school garden evaluation programs in her research on ‘Assessing the Impacts of Garden-Based Learning on Academic Outcomes in Schools’.
School Gardens Should Address Social Justice: Throughout the day, workshop participants repeatedly questioned and commented on the role of the school garden movement in the greater context of social and food justice. Marion-Polk Food Share’s Youth Programs Coordinator Jared Hibbard-Swanson and Planting Communities’ Ian Nicktab broke their session on Poverty and Hunger into small discussion groups to brainstorm intersections between the topics. Each group presented a different take on how school gardens addressed social justice, from economic impacts to changes in the learning environment. While it was difficult to agree on the exact role school gardens could play, it was clear that there was consensus that school gardens can and should be a powerful tool for teaching students about social justice.
Engage the Greater School Community: School gardens are so much more than just a place! A couple of workshops (and the amazingly varied group of attendees at the summit) spoke to the fact that school gardens are as strong as the community that supports them. Engaging more than just teachers and school’s in the garden is crucial to a thriving garden program, as staff from Rogue Valley Farm to School and the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation shared during their session on community engagement. According to Learning Gardens director Brenda Knobloch, the key to getting the community involved is “Use every opportunity to tell your story and let your passion show!”
Aaron Poplack, FoodCorps service member with the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation
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