Over the past few years, the school courtyard has become much more than just a place to relax or eat a meal. Art teacher Alicia Brand spearheaded the creation of a school garden and eventually started a relationship between Lift For Life Academy and Gateway Greening, an organization that educates and empowers people to strengthen their communities through gardening and urban agriculture. As a result of this relationship, the Academy has received educational resources, plants, seeds and opportunities for field trips.
Today, the LFLA garden is growing tomatoes, kale, basil, sweet peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, mint, watermelon, cucumbers, melons, shrub roses and Russian sage. The food grown in the garden is not only accessible to students and staff to bring home, but is also used by the amazing Chef Kenneth Hayden Jr. in the meals made for our students.
However, much more comes out of the garden than produce. During the spring and summer months, students help Mrs. Brand and other staff members in the garden, an activity that not only provides a productive hobby, but also a pastime that teaches lessons in responsibility, self-confidence, communication and observation skills.
Throughout the month of June, twenty incoming 6th grade students participated in the Summer Garden Club, where they performed daily maintenance duties like weeding, watering, planting new seeds, adding compost to beds and picking up trash. Additionally, they created ceramic pots and birdhouses made out of gourds so they could bring their own mini garden home with them. The group also took a field trip to City Seeds Urban Farm, where they got a tour, gained more insight about the gardening process, and learned about composting in their own homes. On the last day of the club, the students had a salsa fiesta, where they made three different types of salsa out of fruits and vegetables from the Soulard Farmer’s Market and from the garden.
Ultimately, the LFLA garden has become a place where students are growing along with the greenery. By working in garden, our young scholars are gaining leadership skills, learning about accountability and developing a sense of what it means to give back to the community in a productive way. The basic goals of our garden, which we already see reflected in our students, are easily summed up by the words of Esther Coco Vanderlick, a child-care trainer at the LSUAgCenter:
“These fundamental concepts promote hands-on learning , environmental responsibility and self-confidence in children. When children accept these responsibilities [in the garden], we help them become caring individuals.”