Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fresh Fruit & Vegetables: Centerpiece for a Healthy School Environment

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: one of the best perks of VISTA work is the opportunity to attend trainings.  My VISTA position is nearly up and I've just finished what most likely was my last training in this term, and it was a fitting end to a series of great opportunities in food trainings.  In the past year, I've gone to the ACGA Conference in New York City, an incredible experience where I learned about the action that communities take to increase their food sovereignty in the midst of food deserts; before that, I went to a training in Humboldt by Food For People where I learned, amongst other things, about gleaning projects and was inspired to start a gleaning project of our own in Del Norte; and in September I was even lucky enough to help host a conference of our own in Del Norte to teach others about our experiences in community gardens.

And after all those, I end my VISTA trainings with "Fresh Fruit and Vegetables: Centerpiece for a Healthy School Environment."  Like I said in my previous post, the first day was mostly filled with information on incorporating more fresh food into school lunch programs, which was very interesting but not exactly relevant to the work I'm currently doing.  But that was just the first day, and honestly I'd go to just about any conference if it meant staying at the luxurious Vichy Springs Resort in Ukiah.  The next day focused almost exclusively on working with school gardens.  My traveling companions, Angie Calleja and Suzanne Nurre are both school garden educators with the Network for a Healthy California, and I'm a community garden coordinator who has recently delved into the school garden setting, so this day of training was right up our alley.

Our first session of the day was about planning a garden for harvest around the school year.  You don't need to be a seasoned gardener yourself to know that a large part of all your harvest is going to come in the summer, when kids are out of school and no one is paying a garden worker to be there.  So how do you ensure that the students will get the chance to eat what they planted?? Careful planning!  We broke into small groups and created planting calendars for themed gardens (like a "salsa garden" where we plant tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and tomatillos) so that we could get a harvest either at the end of the school year or right when school starts up again in September.  This activity worked out perfect for me because I had just recently been struggling to come up with a cohesive planting calendar for the kids I work with at KRECR, and doing the themed gardens is such a good way to keep kids interested and to have a basic frame to create a calendar around.

A lot of the rest of the time was spent doing different garden activities that are perfect for engaging kids by using a school garden.  We also learned about different garden activities that are designed to meet state school standards for teaching different subjects, like language arts, math, and science.  Other activites we did included "Seedy Characters," where we dissected a pinto bean to examine the different parts of a seed and learn about plant reproduction.  We even got to make our own trail mix using six different types of seed.

Overall, it was a great conference that gave me some food training to help carry out the remainder of my VISTA term.  Traveling with Suzanne and Angie was likewise a blast; another perk of going to trainings is the friends you make on the trip.  As I mentioned before, not all of the conference was totally relevant, but it was part of what I think is the most important function of conferences and trainings:  re-igniting or strengthening the passion and excitement we feel for the work we do.  Though we always carry the interest and enthusiasm with us, going to these conferences every once in a while really gets your head and heart in the game and gears you up to go back out there and do great work.

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