Whenever I head out of downtown, driving east on Broadway, I glance over at the rambling gardens surrounding Miles Exploratory Learning Center. Sometimes when picking up my son at Davis Bilingual Magnet School I have a few extra minutes to sit and linger with him in shade of the school garden nestled into the nearby neighborhood; this is one of my favorite ways to unwind from a busy day. In two of our own schools, City High School and Paulo Freire Freedom School-Downtown, co-located on Pennington Street in downtown Tucson, there is a vibrant urban garden where winter veggies are taking root in a new aquaponics system.
Tucson is bustling with schools implementing Farm to School programs. Students and teachers are getting their hands into the dirt and growing food and flowers to nourish their communities and beautify their campuses. Farming is an ancient craft, of course – but for schools in the 21st century, this is an innovation we want to be sure to spotlight.
Miles, Davis, City High School, and PFFS-Downtown are just a few examples of the schools implementing Farm to School programs in Tucson. They are at all stages of implementation, from early baby steps to the exemplary Manzo Elementary School, which has received national recognition for the transformation of its campus.
The extraordinary growth and success of Farm to School efforts throughout Tucson in recent years is due, in part, to two key community partners who have teamed up with local schools and districts to make a big impact: the University of Arizona’s Community & School Garden Program and the Community Food Bank’s Farm to Child Program. The University and Food Bank have raised awareness, garnered local and national funding, provided human resources and expertise, advocated for important changes in local and state policy, and collaborated closely with educators and families. (This level of community-school partnership is an important innovation, worth of a spotlight all its own!)
The health and wellness benefits of Farm to School programs for children, schools, and communities is well documented and research is growing. (Visit the National Farm to School Network site or USDA to learn more.) In addition, school gardens can be a fantastic tie-in for teachers and students to engage in project based learning in a real world setting.
School gardens flourish with community support – from big partners like the U of A and the Food Bank – to individual volunteers and interested parents. Stop by your neighborhood school and check out what’s growing, donate a seed packet, volunteer on a work day. We can all get our hands dirty supporting and celebrating this growing movement in our Tucson schools.