Friday, February 20, 2009

The State of Urban Sprouts

Enjoy this excerpt from our recent Garden Brunch event, of a speech that laid out the past, present and future plans for Urban Sprouts' work.

Our Early Days to Now

This year, Urban Sprouts has worked with over 700 students, and supported school garden programs at six middle and high schools in San Francisco’s under-served neighborhoods.

The seeds of Urban Sprouts were sown five years ago, when educator Dr. Michelle Ratcliffe conducted her dissertation research on the benefits of school gardens at three middle schools in San Francisco. When I look back to 2003, it’s amazing to realize how far we’ve come. At Luther Burbank Middle School, we encountered a few solitary teachers striving to build a garden in a bleak and neglected school by scrapping together any resources they could find. Today, Urban Sprouts partners with six schools with thriving gardens, and the Obamas are planting vegetables on the White House lawn. Times have changed.

First, I’d like to share with you some of the ways that school gardens are so transformative for youth, families, schools and communities. I’m sure you’re aware of how much the obesity epidemic affects young people, even here in San Francisco. We hear from many youth in our programs that preparing meals from food they grew themselves dramatically improves their attitudes towards healthy foods and helps them make real changes in their eating habits. When students were asked about their eating habits in focus groups last year, in 78% of responses students said they eat more fruits and vegetables than before, and in 92% of responses they said they try to eat more healthy foods and less unhealthy foods. Some examples:
“I want to be eating more greens EVERYDAY, and less sugar. I plan on sharing my knowledge about nutrition with my parents and brother.”
“The garden helps you do better in school because it keeps you healthy.”
“I do better in school now because my body is not being energized with Cheetos, it’s being energized with lettuce!”
Also, by nurturing living things in the diverse garden ecosystem students also develop their desire to protect the environment. When students were asked about the environment in focus groups last year, in 53% of responses students said they care or worry about the environment more than they did before. Some examples:
“I’m worried more about pollution because we depend on nature to survive, to grow our food, our vegetables, and trees to breathe.”
“I plan to teach my family more about soil health, and how our health relates to the world's health.”
“I want to recycle more and compost instead of put it into the landfill.”
And my favorite quote of all:
“In the garden, I learned to grow up and be a successful person.”
So you see, school gardens can be life-changing for young people. But, there’s one catch. Not just any school garden will bring about these inspiring changes. What we do in the garden with youth matters.

That’s why Urban Sprouts’ school garden programs are different. We are guided by a research-based “recipe for success” that enables our school gardens to achieve big results. Dr. Michelle Ratcliffe has developed her dissertation research into a guiding framework for garden-based education. In other words, we’re not only measuring the outcomes or results of our program, we are measuring the “inputs,” making sure that every young person gets the highest quality education in the school garden.

Our Shared Future
We’ve gathered you all here at a time when economic crisis affects us all, whether you or your loved ones have experienced job loss, retirement dreams cut short, or belt-tightening in the household budget, even affecting your day to day food choices. Today, as we look for hope, comfort and meaning, we have a great opportunity to share the power in the simple act of gardening. Victory Gardens kept our country healthy and hopeful during early 20th century wartime and Depression, and our children grew 40% of our country’s produce right in their own school gardens.

With this inspiration, this year Urban Sprouts has launched a brand new program, our Family Farmers-in-Residence program. We’ll provide school families with resources and support to plant their own food gardens right on school grounds. The Farmers-in-Residence share their cultural crops and recipes with peers and grow fresh food to feed their own families. This spring, five family teams including moms, dads, grandmothers and children, have broken ground on their family garden plots.

School gardens can also drive the demand for food grown by local and sustainable farms, as we develop a committed base of consumers. Local agriculture creates jobs and puts money in regular people’s pockets, a true local stimulus package. Our neighbors to the north, in Oregon and Washington, are creating policies that turn their public schools into engines of economic growth, as a huge market for local farm produce. By planting home gardens and spreading the word about supporting local farms, we can keep our families healthy and sow the seeds of a sustainable future.
Urban Sprouts brings this message to youth and their families in San Francisco’s working neighborhoods, investing in the next generation of green consumers, green voters, and the green collar economy.

Now, we want to share our message and our successful methods with more youth, teachers, and communities. In the coming year, we will step forward as leaders in this movement. We’ll take our show on the road, providing a series of trainings with in-depth follow-up coaching for schools and community leaders all over California and the West. We’re making plans with partners from LA to Seattle, in urban food deserts where no grocery stores exist for miles, and in Central Valley communities that ‘export’ vegetables to feed our nation but leave their own residents hungry in a rural food desert. By sharing our experiences and learning from our neighbors, we can strengthen this healthy food movement at the grassroots level, outside the Bay Area bubble.

But you know what, there’s something else that makes Urban Sprouts special. It’s the reason we’ve invited you all here today, to get to know us in person. People like us, who take a stand for our beliefs and work tirelessly to lead and organize in our communities, we often feel loneliness and burnout even as we achieve victories in our work. As we step up our leadership and broaden our reach, Urban Sprouts is planning for not only the sustainability of our programs but the personal sustainability of our leaders and members. Through careful planning, we’ll ensure that our staff feel supported, we’ll collaborate to share our increasing workload, and we’ll continue to provide living wages and health benefits to all staff. With your investment, we will step forward as leaders in this movement, sharing our methods, our vision, and our integrity. Your partnership will make all the difference.

Thank you very much.

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