By Chris Gavin, Garden Educator at Clinton and Krieger Schools
Recently the Poughkeepsie City School District was selected as a recipient of the Empire State After-School grant to bring extended learning time to its students for the next five years. And PFP couldn’t be prouder to be one of the community organization chosen to work with the district on this new project. Since December, we’ve been bringing our love of food and farming to Poughkeepsie’s four elementary schools, and we are expanding our after-school programming to include the middle school and high school as well. This is as large an undertaking as it sounds, and to support this ambitious endeavor PFP has welcomed eight new garden educators to its farm family. I count myself lucky to be a part of this new team that brings together farmers, educators, food rights advocates, local college students, and longtime members of the Poughkeepsie community.
Our after-school program is called “Garden Club”, though that simple name doesn’t convey the depth and range of learning we are bringing to our students. The established teaching gardens at each site are the foundation for our work, but as you may know, food connects to virtually any academic discipline and touches so many aspects of our daily lives. Through Garden Club, our students gain practical hands-on skills as they develop positive social and emotional tools that can help them throughout their lives. We connect our lessons to the natural sciences and English Language Arts so that our program supports classroom learning. Most importantly, our club helps create a community where our students can feel safe and comfortable being themselves, where they can develop strong relationships with their peers, and where they can build social skills like kindness and respect.
The theme of our program is “FOOD IS LOVE”, and everything we teach connects to this central idea. Cooking and eating food together is a way to build community and show people that you care about them. Sharing recipes is a way to celebrate our own cultural traditions and learn about those that are different from our own. Learning healthy eating habits is a way to love and support our bodies so that we can be our best selves. Growing food in a way that helps rather than hurts our environment shows our love for all living things. These are some of the ideas we are sharing with our youth participants, and we hope that they will in turn share what they learn with their families and community.
On a personal note, I am a lifelong resident of the City of Poughkeepsie and I attended Poughkeepsie public schools for my entire K-12 education. To return as an educator to the schools that I attended as a child has been a powerful and humbling experience for me. Sharing the joy of food and love of nature with the next generation of kids in my hometown brings me a level of pride and fulfillment that I haven’t before experienced in my professional life. I am so proud to be a part of the team that brings this educational experience to so many youth throughout the district. Here’s to four more years of transformative learning!