Walking in our edible landscape, I notice the bees are slowing down and the clouds are rolling in. The harvests of winter squash and corn are still on their way, but the excitement of sunshine and blue skies are all but over. It would seem that our work in the gardens program is slowing. But this is not the case.
While the rhythm of our work is certainly tied to the seasons, our primary work is not to grow food. It’s to grow community and inspire individuals: a year round effort. So for us the focus switches to the school year. Kids are returning to their classrooms and their gardens.
Gretchen Doering, our new AmeriCorps Service Member, focuses her work on engaging young people in after school garden programs. Our partner in this work, the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation (SKEF), was awarded a FoodCorps Service Member to do the same. This offshoot of AmeriCorps, in its first year of operation, seeks to combat obesity through the development of school gardens and nutrition education. Between our concerted efforts, we are running 10 educational youth garden programs this fall, and plan to expand that number in spring.
We’ve accomplished something special here in Salem. There are only 40 FoodCorps Service Members in 10 states, and SKEF has one. More importantly, we’ve forged a partnership between two successful nonprofits to take on a daunting challenge: Ending hunger and obesity through engaging young people in gardens.
But how are obesity and hunger related? Riding back from a garden meeting with collaborators from a local school, church and our two nonprofits, Gretchen and I tackled this question. Both obesity and hunger are linked to our understanding of food and nutrition, and our access to healthy, nutritious food. It seems that the solution to both must start with young people, whose lifelong habits are still being formed. We believe community gardening is a powerful way to reach kids. Kids love eating something they grow. There’s no better way to learn to love broccoli than to plant it, grow it and care for it.
We’re honored to partner with SKEF in these programs. In order to “walk the talk” of community building, we ourselves must also reach out and collaborate. As my first growing season working with Marion Polk Food Share is coming to a close, I get the sense that our work is only just beginning. The air cools and the wind blows, and hints of blue push through the gray. I notice the lettuce perking up, relieved that the heat is past, ready to grow.
For more information our school garden program partnership, contact Ian Dixon-McDonald, 503-581-3855, ext. 329; Gretchen Doering, 971-388-4244; or Brenda Knobloch and Christopher Chemsak 503-364-2933.