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by intern Claire Brandow

Between a line of trees and the softball field at the Avoyelles Charter Public School in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, is an abundant garden. Cauliflower, lettuce, and shallots grow. Corn, squash, and beans grow together as the “three sisters.” Sunflowers and rose bushes represent the flower population here, and a few fruit trees mark the beginning of an orchard. It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago, this space was an empty field. Thanks to the work of the faculty and students of Avoyelles Charter Public School, Slow Food Avoyelles, and the wider community, the once-empty space has been transformed into a vibrant and lively Edible Schoolyard. From seeds-and-dirt to fork-and-plate, the 700 students of ACPS are now engaging with their food from many different aspects.

In August 2009, after approval from school director Julie Durand, Paige Rabalais and Polly Boersig, officers of Slow Food Avoyelles, began the work to turn the space into the impressive program it is today. Community donations of time, labor, and resources resulted in the construction of a shed that serves the dual purposes of tool storage and outdoor instruction. Next, a winter of “lasagna gardening” helped to ready the space for planting. In “lasagna gardening,” a cover crop is planted over a thick layer of compost in one quarter of the garden. The planted quarter is then rotated over the entire garden, depositing vitamins and nutrients into the soil.

The latest facet to the students’ food education is the addition of a kitchen to the curriculum. Painted in vibrant hues and stocked with Anolon cookware donated by the company as part of its “Creating a Delicious Future” initiative, students are now learning to cook what they’ve grown in the garden. Cushaw, a squash favored by local Cajun traditions, was recently given a few culinary treatments. It was baked with butter and honey, pureed for soup, and the seeds were roasted for a snack. The students have created many other delicious dishes like fluffy omelets, fresh squeezed orange juice, okra fritters, and even an herbed gazpacho with homemade garlic croutons.