Hello and happy gardening! My name is Victoria Binning and I am an AmeriCorps member serving as Marion Polk Food Share’s Community Food Education Coordinator. I run our Youth Gardens program, in which I lead after school garden clubs at three sites. I teach elementary school students how to garden, some basic cooking skills, general nutritional principles, and of course, we have heaps of fun running around and finding bugs! Some of my favorite lessons have been gutting pumpkins and teaching the kiddos about seeds, showing off my worm bin and letting them play with worms, and making cheese.
How did I find myself in such an amazing position, you ask? Well, I have just recently graduated from Willamette University (Go Bearcats!) with a degree in Environmental Science and plenty of work lovingly put in at Willamette’s Zena Farm. My senior year, I was involved in Willamette’s Webber Program in which I taught science to fifth grade students and found I really had a knack for the Miss Frizzle style of teaching. Concurrently, a friend of mine asked me to volunteer with him in the Food Share Community Kitchen. One thing led to another, this position opened, and I jumped at the chance to combine my talent for teaching, my love of growing food, and the opportunity to contribute more to the community.
I expected to be teaching my students all about the garden and food, which I do and it’s all kinds of fun. I didn’t expect to be learning so much from my students. They impress me every day with how much they’ve learned or already know. I am the fourth AmeriCorps member in this year-long position and a handful of my students have participated in Garden Club before. I remember asking one club on the very first day of garden club, “What does a plant need to grow?” and without hesitation, the kids shouted, “Water, sun, and soil!” What that says to me is that this Youth Gardens program is effective and the students are really gaining something from their garden-based, hand-on education. I also didn’t expect all those stories about how kids who grow their own food are more likely to eat it to be true. Lo and behold, I have students who happily munch on a snack of swiss chard during lessons or who insist on taking home bundles of parsley for home meals.
If you have any question about the Youth Gardens Program, the Youth Gardens Educator Workshop, or would like to volunteer with me in the gardens, don’t hesitate to contact me!
I also provide resources to people in Marion and Polk counties who are interested in learning more about school gardens or starting their own. If that sounds interesting, I’m teaming up with the FoodCorps volunteers at the Salem Keizer Education Foundation to plan the second annual Youth Gardens Educator Workshop this spring. Hope to see you there!
Community Foods Education Coordinator