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Building Life Skills in the Garden

Stephanie Teaching in the Greenhouse
Stephanie Teaching in the Greenhouse
In August, The Food Project embarked on its second year as the Massachusetts host site for FoodCorps, a national nonprofit organization that works with schools to create a healthier school food environment. What follows is the first of a series of blogs profiling the FoodCorps members who are serving at The Food Project during the 2012-13 school year. 


"There's no [competition] to the flavor of something that is fresh and was just picked," says FoodCorps service member Stephanie Simmons. "I think that's why a lot of kids don't like vegetables - because they haven't had a chance to taste them at their best."

Stephanie is currently a service member at The Food Project in Roxbury, Mass. She serves with children and families at Citizen Schools, the Blue Hill Boys and Girls Club, and the Dorchester Neighborhood Services Center. This year, she will expand and enhance the gardens at each of these sites and teach lessons in healthy eating and nutrition through the garden. In addition, she is hoping to use their time in the garden to introduce her students to some of the core concepts of TFP's youth programs, such as diversity, rigor, leadership, and food justice.

After ten years of working with youth and children and homeschooling her son, Stephanie knows her way around a classroom. Before joining FoodCorps, Stephanie was a teacher in preschool and pre-kindergarten classrooms, and worked at a short-term residency program for destabilized youth. "The time flies once I get into the actual classroom space or the garden space," she says. "It makes all the planning and the worrying worth it."

In addition, Stephanie is no newcomer to garden education. A few years ago, Stephanie and her son started their own garden in their backyard. That first year of growing, Stephanie homeschooled her son full-time and focused all of his sixth grade math and science lessons around the garden and the kitchen. In the winter of 2011-12, Stephanie enrolled in the USDA's business course "Exploring Your Small Farm Dream." She was inspired by the practicality of the course and by her diverse classmates, and planned to work on a farm to learn more about agriculture.

After the course, she began following a small farm called the Community Harvest Project in Worcester, Mass. In the spring she saw a posting on their website featuring the application for FoodCorps. Ever since she worked at the residency program, Stephanie had dreamed of starting her own school or farm where students could harness their talents and interests to develop useful skills in hard work, leadership, and independence.

This year as a FoodCorps service member, Stephanie hopes to do just that. By the end of the year, she hopes that her students will "really get deeply engaged in their on-site gardens and ... feel a sense of ownership and connection with [them]." Her lessons are hands-on, experiential, and fun, and aim to build skills that the students can bring from the garden to many other aspects of their lives.

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