“What is the input and output of the greenhouse?” “What role do you play in this food production chain?” These were some of the questions asked by Buffalo public and charter school students last night as we gathered in Tapestry’s greenhouse for a discussion with Justin Royer, the school’s Americorp volunteer.
Justin has a degree in sustainable agriculture and has been an incredible resource for the school. He and the students have acted as producers by planting seeds, harvesters by picking plants and vegetables when they are ripe, distributors when they walk the foods to the cafeteria for the school chef to use in recipes, and consumers when they eat the fruits of their labor. Although there are raised beds on the school grounds, a lot of the growing happens in the greenhouse which is considered a “cold frame”. This type of greenhouse, with clear panels that admit sunlight throughout the year, is often used in cold weather climates to prolong the growing season.
Last night we discussed the challenges that the school has faced in the development of a greenhouse and teaching garden and there were many. Lack of resources to get all of the necessary equipment such as fans, lighting, trays and plants was an initial hurdle. The solution? Searching for grant money and developing relationships with community organizations that are involved in gardening and agriculture sustainability. In Buffalo we are lucky to have two such organizations: Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP), http://www.mass-ave.org, and Grass Roots Gardens of Buffalo, http://www.grassrootsgardens.org. These organizations have helped Buffalo public and charter schools with gardens, grant money and farm to school initiatives.
Additional challenges included weather, the unexpected warm temperatures of Buffalo’s 70 degree winter, difficulty finding helpers to take care of the plants during holidays the summer months, and difficulty fitting new curriculum surrounding food sustainability into already packed school days.
Although there are hurdles in establishing a sustainable agricultural environment in a school community, the benefits are far greater. When students come together to understand the cycle, plant seeds, watch things grow, harvest and consume, they learn valuable lessons about working together for a common outcome that has an impact on them, the community and the environment. When you add to this the incredible stewardship of a volunteer like Justin, you have that much more of a chance for success!