A Crop of Innovative Education: Lessons from the Farm at School

Gordon Parks High School offers a unique summer school experience for dozens of students each summer. Students have the opportunity to take a summer class called environmental art. The class focuses on food, social justice, art, culture, health, and the environment. The class is held three days a week in the classroom and two days a week at various community gardens and farms. The class emphasizes service learning and hands-on learning.
A partnership between the University of Minnesota and Gordon Parks High School made this class possible. I had the privilege of being the outreach coordinator at the Student Organic Farm last summer and was offered the opportunity to teach daily lessons with Randy Starr, the art teacher at Gordon Parks. This past winter I co-wrote a partnership grant to fund our class this summer. We expanded our programming to include community outreach, larger vegetable production through the installation of a high tunnel greenhouse, provide a stipend for the student educator position, and stipends for high school students to be hired as garden apprentices once the class is over. This summer we are partnering with Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation and Afro Eco. These organizations share our social and environmental justice values and do incredible work in their communities. We are half way through our third week and are still in the process of building the high tunnel. We hit a few road blocks that have slowed us down a bit, but we are excited about getting some progress made. We have the poles in the ground, and will do the main barn raising event on Monday. It will be the conclusion to our first three week session. So far, we have done lessons on the components of the food system, labeling, nutrition, important vocabulary, the importance of soil, landscape design, and horticulture. Our plans for the remaining three weeks are to build raised beds in the high tunnel, start vegetable plants to donate to community gardens for fall succession planting, visit a few new gardens and farms, lessons on foods enjoyed by different cultures, environmental justice, economics and advertising. After the class is over, we are hoping to hire a handful of the high school students as garden apprentices. We are not sure what this is going to look like yet, we still have planning to do! I am excited to see what this program will become in the future. This program would be not possible without our community partners, Randy and Kathy from Gordon Parks, the support of the school and the district. I am so thankful for their confidence and constant encouragement in me. I am sad to be leaving this incredible program; it has been near and dear to my heart for the past year. I am moving on to a new adventure, serving a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA for the Community Design Center of Minnesota in St. Paul. Hanna Mosca, Farm Intern & Garden Parks Coordinator

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