Ashley, a junior at Life Learning Academy (LLA), a Treasure Island-based charter high school, has recently experienced a change of heart.
“I got garden class and I was like, ‘gross!’ But once I took this class I was like, ‘it’s so cool,’” she says from behind a row of spring plant starts. Ashley is excited and a little nervous; it’s her class’ first day selling at the Schoolyard to Market stand in the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Nonetheless, she’s eager to share her experience. “We eat everything in the garden at school – we just snack. Greens, mint, strawberries. I had no idea there were so many types of vegetables.”
Karina, Ashley’s classmate, chimes in: “It’s kind of crazy! You plant something and like two days later you actually get to see it grow.” In class, the LLA students have planted, nurtured, and groomed the seedlings for today’s sale. Each student also has their own bed where they can plant what they want, as long as they also do the weeding, pest control (i.e. slug removal) and watering that goes along with it. “It’s like having kids,” says Karina. “The plants don’t cry, but you can see it if they need more water or nutrients. You take care of them.”
A Greenhouse For New Green Thumbs
The garden at LLA isn’t new; the school has ongoing classes that grow and deliver produce to low-income residents on Treasure Island. A greenhouse was built a few years back by students at this project-based school; however, LLA has rarely had the resources necessary to use it to its full potential.
Thanks to Schoolyard to Market, a collaboration between CUESA and the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance, the greenhouse has been put to good use this spring. LLA and a second school, John O’Connell High School, are participating in a pilot semester, designed to blend gardening with job skills training. The program provided funds for additional garden staff and other crucial resources at both schools*, and the students have been preparing for sales days at the market. They’ve taken field trips to Ferry Plaza farms, including Achadinha Cheese Co, Flatland Flower Farm, Little Organic Farm, and Devoto Gardens, and they’ve heard advice about running a successful business from farmers and other experts.
Biology and garden ecology instructor Karuna Schweig says the LLA students have been “taking a lot of care in creating a finished product.” The class has been especially focused on building fertility. “We’ve had a much stronger focus on soil science this semester because we’re interested in building a soil that’s good enough to support a big plant in a tiny bit of soil.”
The LLA students will be back in the market on May 21, when they’ll have the opportunity to hone their customer service skills and continue learning from the farmers market community. “It was definitely a powerful experience to see them interacting with the other farmers and sellers,” says Schweig. “They were stepping into a really professional role, and interacting with the farmers as peers.” Craig Miller, the vice principal at LLA, agrees. “The experience is doing exactly what we hoped it would; it exposes them to people, places, and events they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to, and it moves their education beyond our classrooms and into their communities.”
Mission District School Gets a Boost
Calder Gillam has been working at John O’Connell High School in the Mission for around a year. He was hired this semester through Schoolyard to Market to revive a neglected garden at the edge of a concrete playground. He has worked with students in an economics class and a garden club to grow an array of greens, herbs, and other vegetables. Gillam is pleased by how far the garden at John O’Connell has come in just a few months, thanks to a new addition of healthy soil, compost, and a lot of TLC. “It’s flourishing and the produce is just huge and voluptuous.”
When Gillam told his students recently that they’d be expected to show up at the Saturday market at 7:00 am, he was met with a predictable round of groans. But he expects at least 3-5 to attend for extra credit nonetheless. “It’s not easy, which is part of the learning experience,” he says. “Showing up on time, being present and engaged in what’s going on, and not getting distracted by cell phones, etc. That’s all really important.”
He’s also heartened by the fact that some of the students he’s working with now know enough to put in a garden at home if they wanted to. “Growing your own food is less expensive, and that knowledge can help reduce our dependence on all this processed food that’s causing health problems.”
Of course, some of the greatest benefits of gardening are even harder to quantify.
On a recent Saturday in the market, Nikko, another LLA student, had this to add: “Gardening takes a lot of patience. I get impatient, but then I go and shovel something.” At this point he turns to his teacher, Karuna Schweig, with a question. “What is it that’s in the soil?” She tells him about a new study that says digging in the dirt can release serotonin, and he nods.
“Right, serotonin,” he says. “Me and this other guy, we do most of the hard work. And it does take away a lot of the stress.”
* Funding for the pilot semester was provided by GGS Foundation, Tacolicious, Clif Bar Family Foundation, Jessica Goldman Philanthropic Fund, Rabobank, Cooking Channel, Cut Loose, Analisa Naldi, and anonymous donors. If you’d like to make a contribution to support the continuation of the program visit CUESA’s donate page and write: “Schoolyard to Market” in the message field.
CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of farmers markets and educational programs. Learn More »