Final report for YENC22-180
Bridgman Elementary School Garden Club Leader-in-Training project (LiT) will increase the depth and quality of the fifty-member BES Garden Club program by creating a community of ten to twelve peer leaders from among the older student participants. These leaders will enhance their team-building and leadership skills while learning about local, sustainable food systems. The leadership and team-building trainings will occur after school and three Saturday gatherings and culminate with two week-long summer day camp sessions. The peer leaders will return to the BES Garden Club to share activities with the larger group in the fall.
In March of 2022 we invited a group of eleven students from the Bridgman Elementary School Garden Club to participate in a Leader-in-Training program. The students were very enthusiastic. We met after school, two Thursdays a month until the end of the school year, and made two trips to Come and See Farm to focus on more intensive learning on Sustainable Agriculture. Our after school sessions focused on the concepts of sustainable agriculture.
We used the film 'Land of Plenty, Land of Want.' This was a little over their heads but they grasped the basic concept. We also used the "Show-Me Sustainable Agriculture..." USDA publication. The coloring picture provided a good jumping off place for discussion. It is very different than our local landscape. During our first Come and See Farm Saturday we visited Frillman Farms. Tim walked us through his operation. Youth learned about bare soil erosion, farmers markets, perennials and tasted fresh rhubarb and radishes. The second Saturday we tasted seasonal perennial vegetables, roasted asparagus and rhubarb sauce. The kids loved cooking and tasting. (see attached pdf Spring Saturdays)
Summer Camp sessions were held June 27-July 1, 2022 and August 8-August 12, 2022. This gave us an opportunity to experience the timing of different crop harvests. Highlights of the June camp were; making plastic bricks with water bottles led by a local high school environmental club leader, making wild mulberry jam and visiting the Harris Family Farm Foundation (HFFF). Billy at the HFFF talked to the group about sustainable farming as an occupation. Highlights of the August camp included a trip to Verdant Hollow Farms and a trip to the Benton Harbor Farmers Market. At Verdant Hollow the campers learned about raising animals as a part of their permaculture and sustainable agriculture operation and a tour of their 12 season passive solar greenhouse. At the Farmers Market the campers were encouraged to talk to the farmers about produce they had never seen before and were encouraged to taste them. We also purchased green tomatoes and made fried-green tomatoes the following day. (see attached pdf June and August Summer Camp)
With the start of the new school year in September 2022, our Bridgman Elementary School Garden Club was encouraged to take a new direction. The Boys and Girls Club began to provide after school care and many children signed up. The school counselor and District social worker asked us if we would focus the Garden Club on children who were in need of social/emotional support. This meant our group would be much smaller. Our leader group has adjusted well to the challenge. They have been supported with additional instruction from the school counselor on interpersonal relationships. We have seen some amazing relationships develop in the school garden. Personally, I watched a 5th grade boy initiate an attempt to help a small second grade girl dig a hole to plant a lilac bush. There aren't many opportunities like this available in public school.
The children who completed the leader training have continued this fall to be reliable and helpful working with the other children in the group. Some highlights include; lining school garden beds, harvesting pumpkin seeds to roast and taste, making pinecone birdfeeders. Our plans for the spring include recreating our school garden to be a sensory healing garden. We will also be returning to Verdant Hollow Farms to give the leaders an opportunity to share what they have learned about sustainable agriculture with the other children. (Fall 2022 Garden Club)
Photo highlights from Summer Farm Camp and our Fall Garden Club activities can be found here:
- Find and inspire peer leadership for an enthusiastic garden club.
- Grow garden club capacity through developing the next generation of leaders.
- Understand sustainable farming principles and how to implement them.
- Meet sustainable farmers, and learn about their business models, including CSA direct marketing and Farmers Markets.
- Taking leadership roles as junior counselors to share what students learned with the new garden club
- Share the project on the Bridgman Public Schools and Come and See Farm Facebook and other social media platforms.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Many of the education and outreach activities have been explained in the summary. The farmers who made presentations to our youth were very enthusiastic about the program. Molly, at Verdant Hollow, has always been excited to share with the children. They have recently received a grant to build a goat dairy on their site as well as a small shop for other local producers to sell their produce. We will be taking the club there as their project moves forward. Billy at Harris Family Farm Foundation, produces food to give away at local rural food deserts. He always welcomes our group and they are planning an expansion to work on a Farm to School project. Billy spoke directly to the children about what it is like to work in agriculture and he did it at their level. It was fabulous and spot on for the grant requirements. These are exciting developments locally but communication on these projects to the wider community is slim to none. We will continue to expose our group to these exciting projects.
team work, collaboration
trying new food
Where food comes from
Most of the children had a basic idea of what a farm is. They didn't have any knowledge of the different ways to do agriculture. They can now give a definition of sustainable agriculture and can tell the story of the different operations we visited. Through some basic cooking activities they were exposed to foods they had never tried before. All of them tried the food. Most of them would eat it again, particularly the rhubarb and mulberry jam.
I am so impressed with the interpersonal skills they have developed. Each of them has exhibited more confidence in their speaking skills and can see the bigger picture in welcoming and helping their peers.
The Bridgman Elementary School Garden Club has always been supported and encouraged by the school district. But I have noticed, in these times when public education is under attack, extra-curricular activities have fallen by the wayside. And quite frankly, teachers are doing what they can to get through the school day. It's not that they aren't interested, they just lack the energy to be supportive.
One boy in our group comes from a commodity crop farming family. About half way through our camp program he proudly stated that he was going to become a farmer. His family is very kind and generous. His grandfather has driven hay further west when farmers there have a need. He loves working with his grandfather on farm projects. I am grateful that we are exposing him to other ways of farming and sharing the values of sustainable agricultural practices.
Another boy in our group has a real interest in goats. His family is not interested in having goats. He made a nice connection with Molly at Verdant Hollow and will be called on to help on the farm.
A suggestion--through my experience working with the Garden Club I have noticed that the kids love cooking but they frequently aren't excited about trying new vegetables. Also, now that there are few classes that teach cooking in schools, encouraging programs that incorporate food preparation of vegetables and fruits might be helpful.