Monday, October 20, 2008

SF School Gardens Conference '08!

Urban Sprouts was proud to be part of the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance's 3rd Conference on October 10th-11th. The weekend was like a party for the school garden movement — new things to learn (photos at right and below), like cob building, mosaics, carpentry, and seed saving, and time to spend with old and new friends inspired by our shared mission!

Friday night we heard speaker Richard Louv, who gave us one great pep talk about how our work is changing the world! Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods, describes how youth are suffering psychologically from a lack of connection to nature, which he names nature-deficit disorder.

Louv gave us many powerful examples of how school gardens change lives. He told us that experiences in nature are therapeutic for children with hyperactivity disorders and depression, and they develop executive functioning (self-regulation or self-discipline) in kids. He described studies showing that paved schoolyards bring out aggressive games and leadership styles, namely bullying, while natural play settings bring out imaginative play and creative and collaborative leadership in children. In fact, unstructured nature-based play is so good for children, Louv recommended it as the best way to get your child to a top college. Wow! There wasn't a dry eye in the place.

On Saturday, I led a workshop titled, The Real Impacts of School Gardens: How to Make Change and Measure It. I had 3 whole hours — enough time to lead the group through our Garden-based Education Model in depth, to really understand the model and try it out on their own programs. I had enough time to create a nice flow during the workshop, complete with group games, reflection, and drawing activities! It was a great group and we all learned a lot from each other.

The response to Louv's work and the popularity of my workshop showed how much the school garden movement has matured. We are not just building school gardens because they are nice, pretty, and make kids happy. We are creating major social change. In the last few years, we have shown that school gardens impact children individually — developing children socially and psychologically, helping them succeed in school, and changing their behaviors as they eat more vegetables, exercise more, and become environmental stewards.

But, now we are seeing that school gardens do much, much more. They transform schools from their prison-yard look to a green and inviting environment, drawing families in, to make schools stronger. They make our neighborhoods cleaner, greener and friendlier. AND, school gardens teach our children to be our nation's future farmers. Our youth will enter the green collar economy in a few years, in a world where we will have been forced to design a new food system that is not dependent on fossil fuels. Our children will be growing and consuming local food, right here in our neighborhoods. And you saw it here first, in San Francisco's own schoolyards!

Above: SGFSA Conference organziers, Arden, Sharon & Rachel
Photos by Jennifer Thacher

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