Friday, June 14, 2013

SFFC Announces 25th School Garden Winner!

Slow Food First Coast Announces 25th School Garden Grant Winner
Slow Food First Coast (SFFC) is proud to announce the winner of the organization’s 25th school garden grant.  Congratulations to DuPont Middle School’s after-school gardening program on being awarded $250 to expand its garden, which is coordinated through the Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida (LSS).  In addition to the funds, SFFC also awarded the program a teachers' gardening curriculum guide and a copy of school gardening book "Wings, Worms, and Wonder" by SFFC School Gardens Committee member Kelly Johnson.  The program at DuPont Middle School is focused on teaching gardening skills to a number of refugee children, most from Burma and other Southeast Asian countries, who immigrated to the Jacksonville area in the past few years.  The children come from a mostly agrarian background and were ideal candidates to work with a school garden because the program teaches real world skills while building upon some of the children’s experiences from their own cultures and families.

According to Sara Martin, who spearheads the garden project for LSS at DuPont Middle, the funding from the Slow Food First Coast grant has allowed the group to expand the current garden by adding more raised beds, trellises for vines and climbing plants, and even begin composting to improve the soil quality.  In partnership with SFFC, Trad’s Garden Center generously donated 25 heirloom seed packets to the school garden to give the students an opportunity to grow a wide range of crops throughout the year.  In addition, SFFC secured a number of rare Seminole pumpkin seeds, which are native to Florida and are currently only grown in a few gardens in the state.   These vigorous heritage pumpkins have been cultivated in Florida for hundreds of years yet today are listed as an endangered American food on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.
Richard Villadóniga, Founder of Slow Food First Coast, along with Kelly Johnson, SFFC School Gardens Committee member, toured the garden recently and met the young gardeners.  “I am really impressed with the beautiful garden beds Sara and her young crew have established at DuPont Middle,” commented Villadóniga.  “As a teacher, our school garden program is for me personally one of the most rewarding projects that Slow Food First Coast works on.  Just knowing we are helping to teach these children good eating habits and skills that they can take with them into adulthood brings tremendous satisfaction.  These are the future gardeners and farmers of America.  And the fact that this particular group of refugee children has embraced gardening with such zeal proves that good, fresh food transcends culture.  In fact, when I asked the kids what their favorite part of gardening was, they unanimously agreed it was sampling their harvest!  Can you blame them?”

With this grant, Slow Food First Coast (SFFC) has now helped establish 25 school and community gardens in St. Johns and Duval Counties, including those at 22 elementary schools, one middle school, one rural community center, and one homeless shelter.  The purpose of these gardens is to educate children and the community on the health, social, and environmental benefits of making good food choices.  Recipients of a SFFC School Garden Grant are selected through a rigorous application process and chosen by a panel based on their goals, implementation plans, and overall quality and impact.

Those selected for a SFFC School Garden grant receive:

·         an easy to assemble and transport (no tools required) 4’ X 8’ container garden raised bed made of recycled plastic
·         funds for organic soilheritage seeds and plant starters
·         a school garden guidebook
·         lesson plans correlated to Sunshine State Standards, and
·         mentoring with Master Gardeners and other teachers who have successfully implemented school gardens in the past

In return, recipients must:

·         Plant an organic garden
·         The garden must include food (herbs, vegetables, etc.)
·         Have administrative support
·         Include plans on integrating the garden into the curriculum
·         Use vegetables grown in the garden for a taste experience for students
·         Continue the garden project beyond the current year
·         Provide feedback and some sort of portfolio (website, photos, journal entries, etc) at school year’s end
·         Allow SFFC board members the opportunity to visit the garden and collaborate with them.

Slow Food First Coast is a non-profit organization that promotes a food system based on quality and pleasure, environmental sustainability, and social justice.  For more information, please visit