I was strolling past Jane Stenson School, in Skokie, Illinois today when I stopped to watch a group of teachers and students planting a school garden.
Nothing remarkable about this: thousands of schools all over the US have school gardens now, but Jane Stenson is the school where I lost the second grade spelling bee and learned to play tetherball. When I attended grade school, nobody would have dreamed of tearing up the front lawn and planting basil, Brussels sprouts, and leeks.
The reason I was so delighted to see the garden is that, for the past year, my company, Good Egg Marketing, has been working with the Massachusetts Farm to School Project and now the National Farm to School Network to help them promote this movement that connects kids, schools and farms. In fact, I had just gotten off a Farm to School conference call talking about plans for Farm to School Month in October, so when I saw the garden, I had to stop.
This was the last day of school for Jane Stenson students and teachers, but instead of fleeing for the beach, a group of students and teachers had gathered to get the garden ready for planting. Jane Stenson’s principal, Sue O’Neil, had donned a t-shirt and was out there digging with the rest of the group.
O’Neil told me that students and teachers would tend the garden all summer. Students come with their parents and get to take produce home. “We have a very diverse student population,” O’Neil said, “so we try to plant vegetables and herbs that they’ll enjoy.”
Although Skokie is a suburb of Chicago, not exactly the inner city, the grassy empty lots that I used to run through as a kid are gone. “Many of the students have never seen most of these vegetables being grown,” O’Neil added.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t know where my food came from when I was in grade school, either. I’m sure if I’d had access to a school garden when I was at Jane Stenson, I would have gotten involved in promoting local food a lot sooner. I’m excited to see that future generations of Jane Stenson students will grow up with knowing their Brussels sprouts from their leeks.
Way to go, Skokie!