Beginning in 2007, parents, teachers, administrators and students began to transform the 4,000-square foot concrete parking lot at Tyler Elementary into an Outdoor Classroom. The original design focused on reducing storm water runoff and providing space for a garden. While the Outdoor Classroom beautified the school grounds, reduced runoff, and provided opportunities to grow plants, it had been an underutilized space…until the school began a felicitous partnership with the FoodPrints program.
FoodPrints is FRESHFARM Markets’ educational program that integrates gardening, cooking, and nutrition into the curriculum at five DC Public Schools. By teaching children where their food comes from and how it’s produced, and by emphasizing local and seasonal eating, we get kids invested in their food choices. Through the FoodPrints program, children learn about the impact their choices make on their personal health and the health of our planet. Using project-based learning and hands-on experiences with gardening and cooking, we empower children to lead healthy lives and to be stewards of the environment.
Last year, parents and staff at Tyler Elementary worked with FoodPrints staff and OSSE to begin to build a FoodPrints program at the school. In the spring of 2014, over the course of a series of community workdays and with the generous support of Tyler families who sponsored the creation of our first 8 garden beds, we began digging. With 2 additional beds sponsored by OSSE and the Farm to School Network’s Harvest of the Month program, our garden now boasts 10 raised beds bursting with organically grown fruits and vegetables and flowers. Two small preexisting in-ground beds abound with a variety of perennial herbs, lambs ears, and (during the summer months) sunflowers. The perimeter of the outdoor green space boasts a prolific peach tree, fig tree, a couple of raspberry bushes, serviceberry trees, and pawpaws.
During the later spring of 2014, some classes began to work with Ibti Vincent, our very own FoodPrints teacher, to plant seeds and seedlings in the garden, cook together, and begin to enjoy some tasty new recipes. Beans, cucumbers, and flowers began to sprout. Others made bilingual identification signs for our homegrown veggies. Students began to admire the beautiful plants, nurturing the sunflowers, okra, swiss chard and more with their classes, during recess, after school, on the weekends. A few groups harvested the abundant lettuce and herbs growing in the garden to enjoy as a class, and the cafeteria hosted a Tyler Lettuce Tasting in June. Over the summer, the gardens flourished, which would not have been possible without the ongoing efforts of diligent Tyler parents, devoted FoodPrints teacher, and summer campers from nearby Watkins Elementary who visited the garden weekly to weed and harvest so that the nothing from the garden went to waste.
Classes resumed in the fall, and with the help of a partnership with FoodCorps expanded to include students ranging from preK3 through 5th graders. Students have continued to take ownership of the space through watering, picking up trash, and introducing their peers to the space – especially the edible herbs and salad greens, which are fun to pick and taste. With the support of Tyler parents, teachers, and administrators, our FoodPrints program continues to flourish. We have been enjoying our garden’s bounty growing even through the winter months – beets, cabbage, carrots, chard, kale, and colards – as well as the butternut squash and sweet potatoes that we have grown and cured ourselves.
We have big plans for additional planting, and installing a drip irrigation system, so be on the lookout for volunteer days in the garden. In the meantime, please check with your child’s teacher about when the next FoodPrints class will be — our program is even better when a couple of parents can help out at our FoodPrints “in-school field trips,” and you can be sure that we’ll share a healthy, delicious snack together at the end of every class.