Breaking Ground, Building Gardens, & Growing Healthy Habits

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SVHC Member Update: Adalyn
Rocketship Mosaic Elementary

I was surprised when I pulled up to Rocketship Mosaic Elementary for the first time. Located on the corner of a noisy intersection in Little Saigon, San Jose, the school, playground and parking lot were much smaller than I had expected. My thoughts of garden space were cast aside–instead, I wondered how the school could even fit 600 kids. Initial shock overcome, I began to scout the school for the perfect place to plant my dream garden. The search left me slightly disappointed. I had little to work with in terms of space and materials.

But I had to come to terms with reality. This school stood in stark contrast to the elementary school I attended in a rural, agricultural area on the East Coast. Space here is limited as well as the budget, but those aren’t the factors working against me–those are the factors I’m working against. I came here to inspire city-dwelling students to learn about food production, to see that eating nutritious, home- (or school-) grown food is possible even in the scarcest of food deserts. This was my challenge. Time to work with what I had.

Adalyn Garden Picture 1 Breaking ground

By the dumpster of the school was a pile of old cubicle dividers–wooden rectangles with three sides–waiting to be thrown away. But this trash was treasure: for the school, a splinter-riddled call to the garbage collector; for their new Health Corps member, free wood for constructing raised beds. They were just about the perfect size to fit in the long strip of unused land behind the school. It gets a decent amount of sun, despite being fenced in between the stucco walls of the building and the parking lot of an adjacent apartment complex. I had a parent volunteer help join pairs of the cubicles together to make rectangular boxes, 14 in total. We then moved them into their new home outside the classrooms they once occupied. Dusting the dry clay off of my hands, I looked at the previously vacant strip of land. It was no longer the barren, forgotten space it had been days ago–it was a garden under construction, a part of the school with the potential to be fruitful and productive. Rocketship Mosaic had just gotten a little bit bigger.

Some of the kids recognized the old classroom structures and pointed them out during our first trip to the garden–“Ms. Ady, why are the old Learning Lab desks in here?” I explained that I had salvaged the wood from the dumpster to create beds for our plants to live it. Most of them thought it was a silly thing to do, but when I tied the example back into the Three R’s lesson we did recently, they were excited about the fact that the waste had found a new home in the garden–and that it could provide a home for our plants. In November, we transplanted leafy greens and root vegetables into our upcycled beds with the hopes of some yummy, healthy harvests to share as a class in the coming months.

In the end, being resourceful was a win-win-win: I saved time and money that I would have spent finding a solution to my need for raised beds; the school no longer needed to pay to have the desks removed; and the kids learned a great lesson about being resourceful, reusing materials and reducing waste. But perhaps the most important gain from this experience was an early confidence boost; with this obstacle overcome, I’m feeling inspired to take on the rest of the year.

And confidence is important in this position. As the weeks pass, I sometimes feel as though I’m not living up to the goals I set while shoveling soil into beds on the hot days of late summer. My students are not fast food eschewing, kale-crazy young chefs. They still love their Hot Cheetos, and they don’t always eat the side of carrot sticks with their lunch. But at the very least, I’m providing these students with a new perspective of the world they live in. After hours of typing in the computer lab their fingers can stretch in the soil of our garden classroom. They can enjoy the sunlight, the fresh air, the sensory experiences of touching and tasting. Not every student will leave here knowing how a flower reproduces, but they may learn to appreciate bees, and the connection between the plants we’re growing and the food eat.

Adalyn Garden Pic 2 Breaking groundAnd hopefully my efforts in the classroom will follow them into their own kitchens–someday, at least. These years are crucial for introducing children to the concept of dietary awareness. I’m only laying the foundation of a life long journey through the complex world of food choices; there is much building to be done after they leave Rocketship Mosaic Elementary. For now, they may not get excited about collard greens. But at least I planted a seed in their mind about fruits, vegetables, and where their food comes from. And, as my students can tell you, all a seed needs to sprout is someone to care for it.