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By Malia Guyer-Stevens, Communications

Stepping into a garden, let alone digging their hands into the dirt and planting their own food can be a transformational experience for school children. For the widespread community of teachers, parents, and gardeners that make our School Gardens Network possible, this work is all about making a better future for children; and connecting them to where and how their food is grown is part of this process.

The School Garden Network aims to reconnect youth with their food by teaching them how to grow, cook and enjoy real food. The program aims to empower children to become active participants in their food choices, because we believe that by becoming informed eaters, today’s children will help make a positive impact on the larger world of food and farming well into the future. We chatted with one of the school garden leaders in our network, Neha Shah, about her experience running a garden in Ann Arbor Michigan. Neha is an elementary educator and has been teaching in the Ann Arbor Public Schools for 14 years. 

Tell us about your involvement with the School Gardens Network – why did you decide to join the program, and what is your role? 

I decided to join the program because I am passionate about school gardening.  I was asked to serve as a tri-chair member volunteer for Slow Food USA, so I serve on a committee that meets often to discuss ways to enhance the Slow Food USA mission. I have been working with the School Gardens Network since 2018 helping with planning events, webinars, and garden-based learning connections. We focused a ton of effort during the pandemic in hosting live webinars that provided resources for garden educators and teachers that focused on seed starting, growing cool weather crops, beekeeping, etc. by soliciting experts in the field to help lead those efforts.  

From your perspective, why is the School Gardens Network important within the context of good, clean and fair food for all?

I think the School Gardens Network is important because we need to focus our energy on educating and engaging our youth (under the age of 18 starting with preschool all the way to high school), to understand our food systems. By teaching our youth about quality healthy food grown by them, the cultural relevance of food, and fairness in the food system, it allows them to have a voice in the system.  It also provides equitable accessible to good, clean, and fair food for all students. 

What has been a favorite memory and/or biggest learning moment being a part of the program? 

One of my favorite memories was participating in the leader summit in Denver, Colorado at Slow Food Nations in 2019.  What a great festival and summit!  My other favorite I was also awarded as the Snailblazer in 2020 for the Children in Education category and that was a huge and wonderful surprise and honor!