To All My Schoolyard Garden Friends and Supporters,
After 7.5 years at Kansas City Community Gardens I am mixed with sadness and excitement as I announce that I am leaving KCCG. I have accepted a position at the Jackson County Health Department. It was a decision that I did not make lightly, Schoolyard Gardens is a program that I not only love, but that I have helped grow in so many ways. While I am sad to leave KCCG and Schoolyard Gardens, I am excited because I know that I could not have moved onto to my next challenge and my next season of life without all the knowledge I have gained from working with schools throughout Kansas City.
It is difficult for me to sum up my favorite part of Schoolyard Gardens into a sentence or even a paragraph. From the day to day plantings, to garden constructions, to dreaming up new program elements, I’ve enjoyed all of my time at Schoolyard Gardens. If I can only choose one, I would say my favorite experience was harvesting gardens every season. Harvesting with a group of 20 students is never an easy task. We have to ensure we have enough containers for the food, be careful to harvest what is ready and to equally share the harvest among all the students. And sometimes the carefully thought out harvest does not quite happen as it’s planned. But as the students harvest carrots, which are always a surprise waiting for us to pull them out of the ground, and they scream in excitement or run over to show me each time they pull one of the 200 carrots, it is hard not to smile. Even the tiniest carrot gets this celebration! Or when the students harvest lettuce and they begin moving really fast as they realize they can clear a whole bed of lettuce in minutes if they just start pulling all the plants. They quickly fill up milk crate after milk crate of lettuce (and hopefully only a few weeds!). The broccoli is always a big crowd pleaser, as the student harvesting gets to snap off the broccoli head, and usually holds it triumphantly over their head. The snap peas are a fun treat to eat as we harvest. Rarely do many snap peas make their way back into the building. I’ll never forget the pride the students have as they show off what they’ve accomplished, the positive statements they make encouraging themselves and their friends, or the image I have of a line of 20 students each carrying in a container full of food they grew… this is why I love Schoolyard Gardens.
I am so surprised at how much I fell in love with my job. When I began working at KCCG in 2011 I simply thought that I would go to a few schools, spend an hour gardening and be done. Quickly I learned that a “few schools” grew into 20 schools a week and sometimes I’d spend an hour (or three) gardening at a school and that even after I left a school I was not done. With over 220 schools we work with over 13,000 students – it would be easy to lump all schools and students together, but I have a story and unique details about the garden, the students and the community of every single school I have worked with.
I will never forget how eager and excited Kansas City teachers are as they seek learning tools for their students. Some teachers come to Schoolyard Gardens with little knowledge of gardening, and with self-proclaimed “black-thumbs,” but they know that gardens will not only teach students about healthy lifestyles but also provide an added learning environment to their school. Kansas City is full of dedicated teachers and principals and school nurses and cafeteria managers and after school coordinators and parent volunteers and so many other people who are actively creating and transforming their schools and community with their students.
I’ve spent a lot of time laughing in Schoolyard Gardens. I am continually entertained by the reactions students have to the garden. The students observe and often make their observations known. Statements like, “These soil pods look like brownies,”- I’ve heard that one a lot, “This spinach is wrinkly like my grandma’s hand,” – I only heard that once or twice but it stuck with me; the time I explained to a student that we needed to clear old plants to make space for new plants and he responded, “Like how I do that with apps on my iPad” or the time a student said “This kale salad is better than my mom’s chocolate chip cookies,” though I had a hard time believing that one! There are countless other quotes I’ve heard over the years that made me laugh both then and now.
Schoolyard Gardens has taught me patience, the importance of having a plan, and the bigger importance of being flexible! More than that, Schoolyard Gardens has introduced me to Kansas City, a city I grew up in. I have driven to nearly every neighborhood in the metro area, as far as Leavenworth and Gardner on the Kansas side, and as far as Smithville and Oak Grove and Belton on the Missouri side. I have seen the disparities in our metro, sometimes only blocks away from each other. While on the surface it is easy to assume what a community faces and to see hardships over everything else, once I began working in more communities I found myself noticing the strengths of the community and the champions who are working tirelessly to create a welcoming and prideful neighborhood. That is why Schoolyard Gardens (or any gardens) are so great. They are a sign of beauty and hopefulness; new life and opportunities that continue to grow.
My advice for future Schoolyard Gardens staff, enrolled schools, and students is to have fun. There will be frustrations, weeds and a lot of mud along the way, but gardens grow each season so there are many opportunities to work out the kinks. While I will not physically be at every Schoolyard Garden, I will still champion for each and every single one. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines as you work towards A Garden for Every School!