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This is the second in a series of three blog posts recapping School Garden Spring Break, Slow Food USA’s national conference in April 2016. As we look to the organizational future of Slow Food, Spring Break certainly reaffirmed our new strategic direction, which highlights three buckets of work: gatherings, campaigns, and partnerships. Over the next few weeks, this series of blog posts will highlight these areas.

In addition to the gathering of dynamic and passionate people, Spring Break was full of popular topics, which could easily translate into school garden-related campaign ideas for Slow Food USA. Participants shared their favorite workshops as part of a post-conference survey and themes have clearly emerged:

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Diversity and Inclusion

“I wanted to let you know how grateful I am that you made the effort to bring

Bilal Sarwari

Interim Executive Director

Brett Rapkin-Citrenbaum

Brian Solem

Director of Communications and Advocacy

Dan Mueller

Equity, Inclusion and Justice Strategist

Deion Jones

Director of Network Engagement

Mara Welton

Director of Programs

Robin Mosley

Communications and Development Coordinator
to help reality check our visions of inclusiveness. It’s hard but essential work that benefits us all.”

–Spring Break Participant

We are always trying to better integrate the “fair” component of Slow Food’s mission of “Good, Clean and Fair Food for All”. In February, I attended the Massachusetts Horticultural Society School Garden Conference where I heard an incredible anti-oppression talk. After hearing this presentation, I knew we had to bring the speaker to Spring Break to be our opening speaker.  

Our Keynote address “Planting a Promise: Equity and Inclusion in School Gardens” was delivered by Liz Wills-O’Gilvie, Chair of the Gardening the Community Board, member of the Steering Committees of the Springfield Food Policy Council & Pioneer Valley Grows, and Project Advisor to the Massachusetts State Food System Plan. Petite with a big presence and warm disposition, Liz described herself as the only black and bald woman in the room.

One participant commented, “I am a white woman so I am answering this question from this lens. And it bears mentioning because Liz’s keynote opened my eyes to the concept of being ‘color blind’ and how this is really unacceptable at this point in our society. All that said, I feel that your ‘effort’ [to make Spring Break more inclusive] were visible, that as conference organizers, you strived to make these topics a central part of the discussion and that inclusivity was a core component of the experience. There could have been greater diversity of races represented among the presenters but I think this is a systemic issue we need to deal with, not a reflection of this conference alone.”

Later we had a workshop titled “Gardens for Diversity, Inclusion, and Food Justice,” during which we discussed horticultural therapy, gardens and cooking classes to teach English language learners, and food donation programs. One participant “found the diversity, inclusion, and social justice [workshop] very good. It's a component that…many people don’t think about when it comes to school gardens, which can often be very focused on standards-based education and nutrition while leaving out many of the other positive impacts of gardens”. However, we also recognize that through creating a safe space for participants to share, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of this critical topic. In the future, we hope to integrate more on social and ecological justice, as well as increase participation from underrepresented communities.

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Slow Food USA Curriculum

Another particularly popular workshop that could fit the bill for a Slow Food campaign was about our Good, Clean and Fair Curriculum curriculum. Our hands-on demonstrations of lesson plans from the Good and Clean School Garden Curriculum generated new interest in Slow Food garden programs, which we hope to share more widely moving forward. One individual noted “I liked all of the cooking classes, they showed me another way to implement the Slow Curriculum” and another shared the sentiment, “The “good” cooking skills demo was awesome because I will use what I learned right a way.”

Teacher/Leader Training

It is crucially important to train our leaders, which as one participant put it, “leads to staying power and sustainability of school garden programs, which is the core of my work at the moment.” We heard presentations from several garden programs doing professional development that have adopted unique ways to train teachers on how to use the school gardens as a laboratory or extension of classroom activities. Participants were excited to take home lessons learned from these presentations and to incorporate them into their own programs. If you want to learn more about how we do school garden leader/teacher training, check out Slow Food USA’s Professional Development Series.


“We struggle with how to quantify and therefore justify our work.” – Spring Break participant.

Kyle Cornforth (Director of the Edible Schoolyard Project Berkeley) and Eva Ringstrom (Director of Impact for FoodCorps) co-presented on an ever-popular topic: evaluation of school garden programs and measuring impact of these programs on the students. One individual found it “really powerful to hear how organizations that have achieved notoriety in this space value and implement evaluation as part of their strategic growth.”

Long-term Sustainability

Ultimately, the success of school gardens depends on the long-term sustainability (including funding) or “staying power” (as FoodCorps puts it) of these programs. It’s a theme that garden leaders and nonprofit partners often contemplate – “it is what we are all working towards and it was very useful to hear others with the same challenges with yet others with stories of how they were able to overcome…” In this well-attended workshop, participants shared their own struggles in sustaining school garden programs. We then, as a group, brainstormed on ideas and best practices on how to overcome these challenges to the long-term sustainability of the gardens. We are all looking for the right formula for success and perhaps we have planted a seed with this group to find that path.

So it became increasingly clear that certain workshop topics and themes of discussion are more popular than others in the school garden world. As Slow Food attends and presents at future gatherings from the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference to the National Child and Youth Garden Symposium (NCYSG), we hope to bring our experience and expertise around the aforementioned topics.