FoodCorps Friday- Creating Something to Last
By, Food Bank of Northeast Georgia service member, Katie Sanders
It is crazy that not only is it already April, but that it is already late April. In one month my kiddos will be out for summer break. The lovely spring weather has ushered in a new time of planting madness. Both of my schools have spring/summer crops in the ground and are planning for multiple garden-based lessons to utilize our new garden spaces. We have field trips, farmers markets, farmer visits, and taste tests all coming up in the next month—it’s a busy but wonderful time!
As the school year is quickly coming to an end, I find myself starting to reflect on my original goals from the beginning of my service term. When I started my service back in September I had loads of ideas of all that I wanted to accomplish by the end of the year. These goals varied greatly and were in many ways pretty unrealistic. These included ideas such as creating a lunch menu using just our garden’s produce to feed the whole school or having a major farm day at the school for all grades to interact with. As the year has progressed I have amended and adapted my plans along the way however my main focus remained the same: I wanted to make the biggest impact that I possibly could. But that goal is in itself vague and difficult to measure. This has been weighing on my mind throughout my newly busy spring schedule as I try to determine where, if at all I have impacted my students and their school environment. What does it actually mean for me to make the biggest impact possible?
Originally in the fall, I decided my main point of focus would be in the garden space. At one school they didn’t have an existing garden, so I easily found that to be great opportunity to make an impact and I helped them to rebuild their garden space. For my other school with an existing school garden I strived to increase its influence by maintaining the garden space and expanding what they already had growing. In both schools I was able to increase production and have our students try the produce that they grew. One school even grew enough to incorporate fresh spinach on the lunch line for a day. My students were actively involved in the planting, harvesting, and tasting of this produce but it was still difficult to measure the actual impact that our expanded garden learning space was having on them. I could count how many students tried the produce and how many liked it and I could count how many hours students spent in the garden but what do those metrics really mean for my students?
After the gardens were up and running I turned my attention to creating garden lessons for the classroom. I wanted to connect to the appropriate science standards and use my time to influence their mastery of scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, the science standards for elementary students are vague and not in depth, though they can generally all be applied to a garden setting pretty easily. Although my students could tell me all the parts of the plant and what a plant or animal needs to survive, I was still covering standards that their teachers were already covering with them and again my personal impact was difficult to measure. Additionally, I came to understand that while standards helped me to get in with the teachers, it wasn’t especially impactful for my service with my students and in general was too trivial to use as a measure of my impact. Thus I was back at square one, trying to find my best way of making a lasting impression.
This past week we had a major improvement in our school garden; with the help of a school family we were able to get our field project tilled and shaped up. With this new addition we are now able to exponentially increase our production and we finally have an actual chance at supplying the cafeteria on a more regular basis with fresh produce from our school! Looking out at the field, I realized that this is the kind of impact I’ve been looking for, something lasting, something tangible that I can point at and say “Look at what I’ve created!” However, I had nothing to do with the field getting plowed and it isn’t my triumph to celebrate. Instead this process made me realize that perhaps my triumph in my service isn’t in the tangible items.
Every day when I walk into school I’m greeted by little smiling faces that call me Ms. FoodCorps Katie. Every day I care for the plants in the garden and spend time taking those smiling students outside to breathe fresh air and get their hands dirty in the soil. I get to collaborate on garden lessons with great teachers that allow me to interact with my students in creative and meaningful ways. I get to enjoy my time with my students and learn about their personalities and what they like and don’t like. With all of these added together I’m slowly but surely seeing my impact.
Walking into the school a few weeks ago, a student of mine ran up to me and asked for the recipe I used to make sautéed sweet potatoes. During down time in class my students have started using me a resource and asking me about plant and nutrition questions. Teachers I haven’t had contact with are reaching out to me to ask if I would come do a garden lesson with their class. It has been gradual and slow but this is what matters in my FoodCorps service. It matters that my students were able to interact with FoodCorps at all and have a garden and garden based lessons. They may not remember all that we have done together and they certainly won’t know anything about how much I stressed over that one taste test of beets, but hopefully they will remember the fun times in the garden they had learning about food and plants. And just maybe that will encourage them to continue to stay curious about food and the environment and how that all interacts with our future.