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2020 Year in Review

Kids and an adult in face coverings tending a raised garden bed2020 was a year of both unprecedented challenges and incredible innovation. As such, we thought we’d share a retrospective that captures some of the creative and inspiring approaches to garden-based learning that have been widely embraced by our grant winners this past year. You can learn more about each program by checking out their original program spotlight!

Creatively Adapting to Covid-19

With so many schools across the country engaging in hybrid and/or fully remote learning models in an effort to minimize the spread of Covid-19, classroom teachers and nonprofit educators have had to radically adapt their teaching and outreach practices this year. Finding ways to keep youth connected to garden spaces has proven difficult, but not impossible, with programs embracing a variety of innovative approaches.Two of the most popular strategies for continued engagement have been the creation of virtual offerings and distribution of take-home kits.

“We had to figure out how to integrate the things that are so wonderful and beneficial to students, such as time in the garden, and implement them in a remote way” shares World Relief Seattle Community Garden Coordinator Lucas McClish. The organization successfully transitioned the vast majority of their youth programming, which normally took place at their Paradise Parking Plots Community Garden in Kent, WA, to an online format, conducting virtual learning about garden and food-related topics through Zoom.

Plant Chicago also began hosting virtual educational programming, providing local schools in the city’s Back of the Yards neighborhood an opportunity to participate in activities that would normally be reserved for in-person field trips. The nonprofit also created an educator newsletter with helpful tips and tricks to engage youth in remote learning—“We know lots of teachers are out there looking for things to do and digital content to share with their kids” says former Education Manager Kassie Hinrichensen. 

Take home aquaponic kids
Take home aquaponic kits at Imago Dei Middle School

Other garden programs looked to take-home kits to “keep the hands-on learning alive and thriving” in the words of Imago Dei Middle Schools Enrichment and Farm to School Coordinator Frank DiPietrapaul. His Tucson, AZ-based school created miniature aquaponic and butterfly-rearing kits that could be distributed to students and cared for at home. Similarly, the Nature Nurture Farmacy, which serves the Winlock, WA School District, distributed take-home garden kits to over 500 students. “Since the kids can’t come to the garden, we are bringing the garden to them” states program leader Dr. Alicia Spadling. 

Focusing on Hunger Relief

Many youth garden programs responded to the pandemic in a different way: by focusing on providing garden-grown produce to their communities. For some, this was a brand new aspect of programming, but for others it proved to be an opportunity to deepen pre-existing relationships and expand community-minded efforts.

A child with food in a wheelbarrow
Project Coffeehouse supplemented meal service with food from their garden.

Many families have experienced a loss of income during the pandemic and so we’re seeing a greatly increased economic need in our community” notes Lun Ann Potter, Executive Director of Project Coffeehouse in Montgomery, PA. Her program, which has always provided meal service to youth participating in Summer garden programming, began supplementing their offerings with food from the garden. “We knew that this service was really needed.”

Meanwhile, across the country in Dallas, TX, Elizabeth Dry of the Promise for Peace Garden, observed a similar need. In an effort to better support their community, the program transitioned from providing a limited number of make-your-own-soup kits to creating boxes of freshly harvested vegetables, complete with recommended recipes, for a wider number of families. “We’re producing more food than we ever have… and experiencing more community engagement now than in the past 10 years” says Elizabeth.

Creating Opportunities for Youth Empowerment

Creating opportunities for meaningful engagement during a pandemic has also been on the minds of many other KidsGardening grantees this past year. Programs across the country committed to fostering youth empowerment made careful adjustments to make sure that teens could continue to participate in leadership and learning initiatives. 

In Eagle Butte, SD, the Cheyenne River Youth Project offers internships on topics such as Native Food Sovereignty and Indigenous Cooking to local youth, opportunities that can sometimes turn into jobs with the nonprofit. “We want to make sure that kids interested in these areas know there are jobs out there that they can get,” shares Youth Program Coordinator Jerica Widow. “We want them to know that these are careers they can have after they graduate or when they’re an adult that will allow them to stay connected to their culture and the rez.”

For Philip Hewitt, Youth Development Manager at St. Clair Superior Development Corporation in Cleveland, OH, workforce development is a similar priority—the nonprofit runs a Garden2Kitchen summer program that provides teens with professional experience in the food service sector. He also considers simple gardening an incredibly rewarding venture in and of itself, especially during such unprecedented times. “Being able to just get outside and be in the garden, to have safe face to face time with peers, it was so important this year. Those were feel good moments, it’s why we garden. No matter what’s going on in the world, gardening is always going to deliver those feel good moments!”