Growing Food, and Community, in the Desert


Alissa J. Novoselick's students bonded over their shared love of chilies. Photo by nattu via Flickr.

A cynic might look at a program like the Edible Schoolyard -- the much-lauded school garden initiative launched by Chez Panisse's Alice Waters -- and wonder if such a thing would be possible outside the favorable growing climes (and foodie sensibilities) of California, and without the support of a famous chef. But as a moving article by a young teacher in rural Arizona shows, the answer is a resounding "yes."When she moved from a large city in Michigan to Camp Verde, a tiny Arizona town, sixth-grade teacher Alissa Novoselick wrote for the online magazine Salon.com, she "found that the word 'barren' could be used to describe almost everything -- the landscape, the bookshelves that lined my English classroom, the extreme apathy for education, and the rare semblances of togetherness between the Hispanic, Native, white, and black students."

After some classroom discussions about the importance of food traditions to their respective cultures -- and "how being poor means having few resources for fresh produce" -- Novoselick and her students decided to plant a garden to grow food for use in the school's cafeteria. They pulled weeds, hauled manure for fertilizer, started a compost bin, and bonded over their shared love of chilies. Their efforts yielded more than just fruits and vegetables, Novoselick writes:

The day we planted, I saw something I had not seen in Camp Verde, ever: Parents, who rarely seemed invested in their childrens' education, showed up with rakes and trowels... I asked one student what she was learning and she replied, "Nature is more than what God created. It is a part of life." ... The Native American parents that showed up began impromptu lessons about the history of the agave plants, and another 6th grade teacher taught a lesson about water conservation in the desert. Inside the garden, inside the decrepit fence, racial tensions eroded and the true meaning of community blossomed.

Life around the Camp Verde garden is hardly Edenic -- the school, like so many others, faces budget cuts, and there's not enough money for new textbooks or electric bills, let alone an ecofriendly irrigation system for the garden. But Novoselick and her students "keep toiling in our small piece of desert land where things still grow" to produce "healthy, local, community-driven food," the teacher writes.

"We still have much more work to do. We have funds to raise. We have people to convince," Novoselick adds. "But, when the school board asks me, 'What can we do to create community?' I'll tell them the answer: food." Via: "Growing more than food in a desert garden," Salon.com
More about school and community gardens:
Grow a Community Garden
Celebrate National Community Gardening Week
Grab Your Hoe--New Report Shows Community Gardening is Booming in Urban Areas
We Love the World Food Garden Network
Camden's Garden Club Doubles Its Community Gardens to Feed the Jobless
People to the Power: Energy Utility Provides Community Garden Plots
Backyards Being Converted to Community Gardens in Santa Monica
Solar Panels & Wind Turbines Power NYC Community Garden
The Organic Garden as Classroom

Tags: Alice Waters | Arizona | Community Gardens | Gardening | Green Youth | Local Food

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