DPS kicks off initiative to create 45 school gardens to teach students about nutrition, composting, sustainability and more, while expanding access to fresh fruits and vegetables

Gardens, being created through a new Detroit School Garden Collaborative, will serve as living laboratories for students and involve partners such as Greening of Detroit, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Detroit Medical Center and Eastern Market Corp.

Detroit Public Schools, along with community partners, on Monday kicked off an extensive Farm-to-School initiative that will create gardens at 45 schools throughout the district, expanding teachers’ access to real-life laboratories to teach students about healthy eating, nutrition, and concepts around growing food while increasing schools’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held on Monday, April 23, 2012 for the new garden at William Beckham Academy. Each site will feature raised beds made of recycled timbers, compost bins, a rainwater collection system, gravel walkways and a Farm to School Learning Center, increasing students’ scientific understanding of sustainability.

“It’s ideal when connections are made between science curriculum and the real world through observations and inquiry, and a school garden is definitely a great location for students to have that experience,” said Alycia Meriweather, Executive Director of the Office of Science.

This revolutionary project makes DPS one of the few in which food services, site management, and curriculum are working collaboratively to ensure that students are able to learn academic content in a real world context related to gardens. Exposing students to the science behind a productive garden, and encouraging science experiments in the garden also seeks to advance students’ interest in Science as a hobby or career, Meriweather added.

Additionally, the program ensures that more fresh food from farms and gardens will be used in school cafeterias. Through the gardens, students also will gain a greater understanding of the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables, become ambassadors of healthy foods and will be encouraged to share information with their families.

Partners of the program, called the Detroit School Garden Collaborative, include The Greening of Detroit, which will provide technical assistance and training and will facilitate the Garden Resource Program; Eastern Market Corporation, which will provide community outreach, grant identification, sponsorship identification and help create a new DPS Farmer’s Market; the United Way of Southeast Michigan, which will provide community outreach and sponsorship identification; and The Detroit Medical Center, which will offer community outreach, Health and Wellness education and sponsorship identification.

“The potential of this project to help educate students about the food they eat is enormous,” stated Dan Carmody, President of Eastern Market Corporation.

“The Eastern Market Corporation is constantly seeking ways to engage the community on the issue of healthier eating. Reducing the incidence of diet related diseases, such as type II diabetes and hypertension, is critical for Detroit and there is no better way to achieve this mission than by connecting with students and their parents.”

The funding for the initiative will be paid for through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which authorizes funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs and increases access to healthy food for low-income children. The Act is designed to improve nutrition and reduce childhood obesity and allows child nutrition funds to be utilized to establish and maintain school-based gardens.

In addition to the installation of a fully functional garden being built and installed on school property, schools that are part of the Garden Collaborative will have membership in the Garden Resource Program through the Greening of Detroit. Through that, seeds, plants, compost, technical assistance, soil testing, professional development, and other support will be provided. One dedicated Garden Aide will be added per site, as well as Garden Manager support.

Each school will create a school Garden Team that will take the lead on the project and will help mobilize staff and volunteers to assist in the day to day management of the Garden. A Student involvement plan will be created at each site.

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