- Author: Rose Hayden-Smith
Recently, UC’s Agricultural Sustainability Institute gave me the opportunity to visit Grant Union High School in Sacramento to learn about their GEO Environmental and Design Academy, which includes a gardening and cooking program.
The school is in an economically challenged area, and about half the students are English language learners.
Teacher Ann Marie Kennedy said something interesting about the students enrolled in the program: “They are disconnected from agriculture, but they are not disconnected from food.”
The Grant garden is essentially a shared school and community garden, which I believe is one of the best models for school garden sustainability. Community gardeners have individual plots, but assist in the school garden areas. Some of the community gardeners have children or grandchildren enrolled at Grant, but others are connected to the school simply through their love of gardening and the opportunity to cultivate food.
During our visit, we worked alongside the students to harvest, wash and chop vegetables to make chicken and vegetable chow mein and garden-fresh salad for lunch. We also sampled Grant’s salsa, which is sold commercially, providing a real-life business incubator for seniors in the program.
The lunch was simple ... and simply amazing. Not only the food, but the chance to speak with students and learn about how the program has influenced their lives. The students said they are eating more fruits and vegetables and bringing the practice home to their families.
I ended my visit with enormous gratitude for the work of Grant Union High staff and profound awe for the students. I have a great deal of confidence in a future that includes their leadership.
But I also left with the idea that this exceptional program should not be the exception, but rather, the norm. If we are truly committed to a healthy future and a healthy nation, we need programs like this, that provide opportunities for youth engagement with soil, healthy food and mentors who will encourage their leadership abilities.