Strengthening Our FoodCorps

“And what do plants eat?’
-“Carrots!”
-“Mud!”

The kindergarteners through second graders at Kirtland Elementary in Albuquerque, NM were perhaps a little confused about how to answer this particular question. Nonetheless, they were all quite excited to be transplanting their grasses, after singing the Growing Song of course, which had been renamed by the students to include names such as “Grassy the Grass,” “Angelique,” and “Soaring Eagle.”

These students are a part of the after school program that FoodCorps member Tyler Wilson manages. Tyler works with students, from kindergarten through sixth grade during the school day, teaching them about climate change, seasonal planting, permaculture and other sustainable and agriculture focused curriculum. The after-school Gardening Club extends the work Tyler is doing in the classroom, and allows kids the opportunity to work in the school’s garden.

Kirtland Elementary School Garden. Photo by author

Kirtland Elementary School Garden. Photo by author

FoodCorps, a branch of AmeriCorps, focuses on connecting young students with healthy agricultural practices. They’ve had an incredibly successful impact nationally and we are lucky in New Mexico to be one of fifteen states that hosts a FoodCorps initiative. With 1 in 3 children experiencing hunger throughout the state, NM is a perfect candidate for this kind of program.

UNM students' artwork decorates the garden. Photo by author

UNM students’ artwork decorates the garden. Photo by author

FoodCorps’ main goal is to integrate the importance of health and sustainable agriculture with education in the young minds of students. Depending on the school and the FoodCorps member in charge, the curriculum can vary from permaculture to watershed management to implementing a seed library for the students. Tyler got his degree in Biology, and therefore uses his area of expertise to help him create his lesson plans. His students have learned how to map areas with different climates and now that the planting season is in full swing, the kids are learning about native and non-native plants and how to care for them in the garden. Tyler is particularly excited about the garlic that is growing. The garlic scapes (flowers) can be harvested by pulling them straight off the top of the plant, and what child doesn’t love pulling really, really hard?

Tyler has built up rock walls to sustainably maintain the garden. Photo by author

Tyler has built up rock walls to sustainably maintain the garden. Photo by author

Being a FoodCorps service member is not a job to be taken lightly. The organization looks for those who are passionate about educating our future generations about health, and who will be committed to working hard with large numbers of easily distracted young kids. Creativity and perseverance are musts, and recently, the NM FoodCorps branch is hoping to hire more local members, i.e. people who’ve lived or grown up in New Mexico.

Currently, the only native New Mexican FoodCorps member works in Santo Domingo Pueblo, where he grew up. Tyler is originally from Oregon and he points out the difficulties and advantages of having outsiders come into the system. “Having people from different states coming in is wonderful if they have the knowledge and qualifications, which many of them do. But then they leave, they move on, and a lot of that knowledge goes with them.”

The garden coming alive! Photo by author

The garden coming alive! Photo by author

Tyler believes that a place-based education is essential, not only for people looking to work with FoodCorps, but for all schools and all ages. “When you apply for the National application, they look for people who’ve submitted a ‘good’ application; people who are either just out of college or close to finishing, people who are good at writing because that is always helpful in any application process, and people who’ve maybe had some hands on experience. But, those qualifications don’t always match up with the people who have all of the local knowledge, the people who have grown up working with the climate and soil and weather and really know the land. So it can be good and bad.” Integrating culture into the system is vital for educating youngsters about healthy food and lifestyles.  “These kids are smart,” says Tyler. “They have the intelligence, they just need to get their hands dirty.”

A compost supports the sustainable practices used in the garden. Photo by author

A compost supports the sustainable practices used in the garden. Photo by author

Each year, the state demands more English and more Math. Tyler’s solution: use the garden as a resource. Nature has endless lessons to plant in young minds and with student and teacher support, the garden can flourish. As a FoodCorps member, Tyler feels welcomed and supported by the faculty and students. “The kids all say hi and seem excited to see me,” he grins. It is those connections that validate the FoodCorps mission. Connecting the community to healthy food and to each other are the goals the program strives for.

Tyler Wilson, FoodCorps Service member. Photo by author

Tyler Wilson, FoodCorps Service member. Photo by author

-Posted by Olivia

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