Troy A. Howard Middle School
The Garden Project at Troy Howard
Troy A. Howard Middle School
To grow academically empowered successful young people who integrate sustainability into their lives by growing organic produce and learning to satisfy their needs locally. To learn where food comes from; how to grow, harvest, and prepare vegetables and fruits organically; and the keys to building healthy soils.
How we are doing it
Students garden year-round in 12-by-20 foot "hoop houses" that they built from locally acquired materials. The Garden Project serves as the core of the academic program for students participating in it, addressing state standards in social studies, math, language arts, and science. They learn about their region and its history, good nutrition, local food production, and how to conduct good science. The program is highly inquiry based, encouraging students to research the questions that arise in the course of operating the garden and running the businesses that arise from it.
The project grows 8,000 pounds of produce a year, permitting all of the district's schools to offer some fresh food with every lunch and winning prizes for heirloom vegetables at the country's largest organic fair, as well as donating food to the local soup kitchen.
Sales of produce and seeds at a Garden Project farm stand and at the local co-op cover most of the expenses of the program. Students serve eight-week apprenticeships, and then apply for work as "employees" in one of three divisions of the project: Compost, Seed, and Garden Stand. Each of the divisions is run as a business, providing the opportunity to learn about small business management and to acquire understanding and skills required by self-sufficient local agriculture.
What we are learning
Students are learning that they have the power to manage something they are proud of and that can extend into their lives as adults. Faculty members are learning that conducting such a program while attending to state standards can be done, and is highly rewarding, but requires flexibility on their part in order to design lessons that fit day-to-day developments in the garden or their businesses.
Cultivating relationships with place and community is important to the project's success. Everything the Garden Project does reinforces those connections, whether reestablishing orchards with native seeds, saving heirloom seeds, buying seeds from local companies, or taking the extra step to work with, rather than compete with, local farmers and seed savers. It's important not only that students contribute produce to the local soup kitchen, but also that they get to know the members of their community served by the kitchen. In turn, the community reciprocates: local businesses give discounts to the project, residents patronize the garden stand, and local families volunteer to help maintain the garden over the summer.