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VOL. 130 | NO. 205 | Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Kitchen Community is Growing Gardens in Memphis Schools

By Madeline Faber

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In September, children at Resurrection Catholic School harvested sweet potatoes out of the garden they had been studying all year. They knew about soil content and the lifecycle of a seed, and they knew that there was something special about these sweet potatoes.

Garden educators Danny Schmidt and Lauren Bangasser with The Kitchen Community walk kindergarten students through the process of planting lettuce in the Learning Garden at St. John Catholic School. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

This is the first fall bounty for Resurrection Catholic, one of the first schools in Memphis to receive a free learning garden from The Kitchen Community.

The Boulder, Colorado-based nonprofit, which is also in Los Angeles, Chicago and Greater Denver, splashed into the city with a promise to build 100 gardens in Memphis.

Shortly after, TKC CEO Kimbal Musk announced two locations for his farm-to-table restaurant, The Kitchen. Profits from The Kitchen restaurants at Crosstown Concourse and Shelby Farms Park will feed back into building learning gardens and cultivating curriculum for teachers.

There are now 27 learning gardens across Memphis, and the nonprofit is accepting its second round of schools’ applications. It’s aiming for a class of 35 to receive gardens in spring 2016.

“Not everybody knows about us, but when they find out about us, they are just blown away,” said Lisa Ellis, TKC’s regional director for Memphis. The group assembles and plants the gardens and helps teachers incorporate them into classrooms.

Garden educator Danny Schmidt guides kindergarteners through the process of planting their own lettuce in the Learning Garden at St. John Catholic School on Lamar Ave.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Teachers that signed up for the first wave of learning gardens are now reaping the rewards. Students are naturally drawn to the gardens, and outside learning dovetails with many subjects, from the weather to plant biology.

“With the common core standards, we have a lot of pressure to provide informational texts to our students in a way that’s engaging,” said Hannah Roerick, teacher and assistant principal at Resurrection Catholic. “What the Kitchen Community garden does for us is it enables us to put the students out into the garden and then bring them back into the classroom and read nonfiction texts that relate to what they’ve just experienced. It builds their background knowledge in a way that enables our students to understand what the text is expressing.”

More than seven languages are spoken at Resurrection Catholic, so the garden has been a focal point for cross-cultural discussions. At harvest, students discuss the ways their families prepared the vegetables and herbs they brought home.

Building on that diversity, Roerick is looking to launch an international potluck fundraiser to raise funds for the garden.

Megan McRae and Virginia Hopkins at William H. Brewster Elementary say that the garden is well incorporated into their classes. They’re taking part in TKC’s curriculum pilot, testing lesson plans designed by master gardeners and other educators.

“It will give all the teachers following after us great lesson background,” said McRae, who teaches English as a Second Language. “I get to take my kids out to the garden and they really get a hands-on experience. Experiential learning gets them interested and gives them something to look at, touch, smell and see.

“They use all their senses in the garden, and they love it.”

Hopkins, who teaches music, sees a renewed sense of responsibility with students. They worry when it hasn’t rained for a while and take extra time to water the garden during recess.

Even though winter is on the way, TKC is getting ready for a busy season of monthly teacher workshops. At the first session in November, the education team will talk about how to put a garden to bed for the winter or cover it to grow cold-weather vegetables.

When both of The Kitchen restaurants are up and running in 2017, there could be bigger opportunities for the learning gardens.

In Chicago, high schools are engaging in an entrepreneurship pilot program where students work directly with the restaurants. They plan for a season in advance and sell their food back to The Kitchen.

“We would love for it to come here one day,” Ellis said. “With elementary and middle schools, we’re really looking to inspire them to get involved with the food industry and to really know about the food system. So that when you go out to the restaurant, you’ll think about where your food comes from.”

TKC is currently accepting applications for learning gardens; visit thekitchencommunity.org/resources-by-region to download. The deadline is Nov. 4.

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