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City Sprouts

 Spare Change News (USA) 08 June 2019

(Originally published: 07/2009) Cambridge is the regional home of academia and biotechnology for New England. It is therefore appropriate that the city is also the center of an innovative local program that creates gardens within the schoolyard. City Sprouts helps each school community to build a garden on its school’s property. By doing so, the program expands upon the traditional classroom to include garden-based lessons with practical leaning applications. As Spare Change News vendor and contributor Robert Sondak reports, City Sprouts hopes to promote healthy behavior, environmental understanding, and good citizenship. (941 words) - By Robert Sondak

Cambridge is the regional home of academia and biotechnology for New England. It is therefore appropriate that the city is also the center of an innovative local program that creates gardens within the schoolyard. These community gardens represent outdoor classrooms for children in grades K through 8 in which to learn about wholesome food, the environment, and basic science.

The program itself is called City Sprouts. It was founded in 2003, inspired by school-based gardens based on the west coast. City Sprouts started with garden programs at four Cambridge Public elementary schools: The Haggetry, the King Open, the Morse and the Peabody. Over the past six years, the garden program has expanded to include 10 public secondary schools. Beginning the fall of 2009 with the incoming academic year, all 12 Cambridge public elementary schools will enact the garden program.

City Sprouts helps each school community to build a garden on its school's property. By doing so, the program expands upon the traditional classroom to include garden-based lessons with practical leaning applications. These lessons are tied to the curriculum that Cambridge teachers are mandated to follow. For example, young children in K through 8th grade can learn about the process of converting sunlight into energy for plants to grow (photosynthesis), or how to determine the position of the solstice sun. Garden installations are also educational, and include solar fountains and movable stream tables for the study of water. Finally, children gain practical knowledge by helping to plant fruit trees and herb gardens.

City Sprouts assigns a garden coordinator with a background in urban gardening to each elementary school. These garden professionals work with the schools and provide academic support to the teachers. In collaboration with the Cambridge Schools Department, City Sprouts has developed garden based lessons

with practical applications that include elementary science, food and the environment, math, and social studies. Meanwhile, the garden coordinators work directly with students to help maintain the gardens. They also offer specialty lessons for students that include how to press apple cider, how to harvest and grind wheat into flour and the optimal conditions in which to plant a variety of beans.

As educational philosophies, City Sprouts promotes healthful behavior, environmental understanding, and good citizenship. These values are taught through a series of after-school drop in's, cafeteria tastings, and food lessons that employ the knowledge and, literally the fruits of, the school garden. For example, during the 2008 school year, cafeteria tastings of a variety of school garden-based vegetables were offered. Recent cafeteria tastings focused on tomatoes, red and sweet potato fries, and herbs, including basil, chives and parsley.

City Sprouts has also sponsored farm visits. In 2008, Ellery Kimball of Blue Heron Organic Farm, which is based in Lincoln, visited the Martin Luther King School and the Haggerty School. Students at each school meet with Ellery in their libraries for discussions on the process of growing tomatoes organically. At the end of her talk, Ellery invited students to the cafeteria for a tasting of herbs grown at BHOF. Everyone also tasted parsley and chives grown in their own school gardens.

In the summer of 2008, City Sprouts offered internships to middle school students that expanded classroom learning through study of the local food system, nature, and the environment while school was on break. Teams of five students in grades K through 8 from each the 10 Cambridge schools then represented participated in this summer program. The internships represented an intensive, month-long experience in growing and harvesting food in an urban garden.

In the City Sprouts internship program, each participant works as part of a team within their own school or neighborhood garden. During the four weeks of the program, interns spend 4 hours per week with their garden coordinator in the school garden or on field trips within or outside of Cambridge. City Sprouts further enhances the lessons that the interns receive by inviting guest teachers to the school gardens to give special lectures.

Last summer, City Sprouts interns visited the Food Project urban garden in Dorchester, the Gaining Ground Farm in Concord, and Community Servings in Jamaica Plain. City Sprouts interns also participated in the harvest of herbs and produce for Community Servings school-based garden.

Two weeks ago, I meet with Gretchen Friesinger the Morse and Fletcher School garden coordinator at the Squirrel Brand community garden located on Broadway in Cambridge. I asked Gretchen to talk about the City Sprouts school and summer internship programs.

"Teachers are using City Sprouts as an extension for the classroom," said Ms. Friesinger of the school-based gardens. She elaborated, saying, "Kindergartners grow wheat and learn how to make waffles," demonstrating an example of the holistic approach to learning used by the program. Ms. Friesinger also mentioned that the children have grown corn, beans, and winter squash just as the Native Americans did three centuries before them.

"The children learn about what is good food through the school garden lessons. School based lessons give children the experience of growing food in the inner city," said Ms. Friesinger, highlighting the importance of having an agricultural experience in an urban environment.

Significantly, all City Sprout gardens are organic. Ms. Friesinger noted that the coordinators work with community volunteers and teachers to provide compost and mulch and cultivate the gardens.

Garden-based school programs that expand the traditional classroom from beyond the school and into the community merit volunteer and financial support from the public, as well as that of corporations and foundations. These lessons help to enable young children to lay foundations for future careers that make Cambridge in particular and our country in general competitive in the 21st century global environment.

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