Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Back in the Saddle

It's been too long since I've written on this site and for that I apologize. I was caught up in the project I was volunteering for from August until December (you can find writing/photos from that project here). Since then, I've been in a bit of a slump trying to figure out where my life is going to go. Recently, I discovered the motivation that I've been needing to make a difference in this community, which was, after all, the inspiration for my starting this blog.

Myself and three other community volunteers are currently in the process of working with Theodore Jones Elementary School in Conway to implement a school garden program. I met with Principal Woosley and the two Kindergarten teachers (coincidentally both have the last name, House) on Wednesday, April 16th. We discussed building a school garden on campus and got the go ahead to create raised beds from Mrs. Woosley. She is also welcoming the community volunteers I mentioned to start an after-school program for all the students who are able to stay. This after school program will be used to teach the students using curriculum based on the USDA "Garden Detective" curriculum. We even discussed the idea of installing a composting center where the kids composted uneaten food from the cafeteria (which they would separate and weigh every week to raise awareness about waste).

I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about meeting with Mrs. Woosley last week. I wondered what the outcome of the meeting would be, but could not have imagined better than the reality. Mrs. Woosley apprised me of the fact that the school has an 80% poverty rate among their students. Hearing this, I was reaffirmed in my convictions to start the program at Theodore Jones.

So, now we are in the process of finding funding sources for the building of the garden. Using the raised bed examples at the Freyaldenhoven Greenhouse, which is just up the road from Theodore Jones, I estimated the costs of building the raised beds and filling them with soil to be around $1600.  I'm hoping to get seed donations from various companies, including the local seed bank, Double Helix Farms. It is my goal to keep the sources local because we want to encourage the kids to be more conscientious and help their parents make the choice to buy locally.

What do you think of this logo?

Eventually, I plan to make my team into an official non-profit group, but until we surpass $25,000 in fund traffic in a year, we can remain an informal group, which I'm calling Southern Roots. The mission of our group is to increase access to nutrition knowledge and healthy, local food for school children and their families in Faulkner County, Arkansas. If I learned nothing else from my experience with the Love Your School program, I learned that in order to succeed you have to start small and plan everything in advance. This is why we are starting with one school garden and working our way up from there. By the end of summer, we will have the gardens built, even if we have to create them from old pallets no one wants anymore. By August, we'll have seeds, even if we have to host a bake sale to raise the funds to buy them. I am so excited and proud to be a part of this movement towards making local food the norm in Central Arkansas.

If you would like to be involved in this process, we would love to have you! Please e-mail me at samantha.j.gullion@gmail.com with questions, concerns, or suggestions. 

The enthusiasm and pure joy that comes from children will never cease to bring a smile to my lips. I miss the children at Bale Elementary and hope they are able to continue to work in the garden.

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