The Herald-Sun did a nice job with its two-parter on local non-profit NEEM and its founder Jeff Ensminger, the players behind the successful re-imagining of Lakewood's Roll's Florist shop across from the Food Lion as a "seed garden" for raised-bed gardens throughout North-East Central Durham and by demand in other parts of the city.
NEEM's mission of helping residents reconnect with agriculture while providing healthful foods grown economically in their own back yard has resonated with local leaders, grant writers, Duke officials, non-profits and more, and Ensminger's vision is off to a good start. (See BCR's March 2009 story for more on the NEEE effort.)
Now Ensminger is making a push to get community gardens established at all of Durham's 29 elementary schools -- a big effort that could go a long way towards closing some of the gap in food experiences at Durham's various primary schools.
Now, edible gardens at a school are a bit of a misnomer as far as the cafeteria's concerned, since as the Herald-Sun notes, the use of food harvested on school grounds for actual eating by students is strictly forbidden. (Too bad the same doesn't apply to mystery meat!)
But that doesn't mean parents aren't interested in slow-food, locally-sourced menu item actions they can support at their schools. In November, we talked here about the PTA-supported edible garden effort at Watts Montessori Magnet, and at a slow-food chef day at Morehead's own magnet school, again a source of parental action.
The comments section heated up on the post, with some griping over these efforts seeming to take place in those schools where wealthier parents were engaged, versus in more challenged urban schools. As one observer rejoined:
Correct me if I wrong, but I believe that *every* group of parents who are making an effort in the area of gardening, school lunches or nutrition is ONLY doing it at their school -- whether it's a magnet or non-magnet, Title I or non-Title I. No one has yet figured out how to change the entire system at once. We're all piloting ideas. So instead of making negatively nuanced remarks about whether a school is worthy of attention -- based on its poverty level or magnet status -- I'd suggest we support each other's efforts, in an attempt to build a new kind of farm-to-table system, one step at a time.
What's exciting about Jeff's efforts here is that they really do provide that bridge towards providing more understanding of local food and agriculture to students -- something he thinks will help kids on a path towards healthier eating and avoiding chronic diseases.
The H-S notes that GSK has provided a grant to bring the first raised gardens to the Holton Center in East Durham along with two of Durham's neediest elementaries, Eastway and Y.E. Smith.
Ensminger figures the cost of getting these gardens at a little under $50,000 -- about $1,650 per school, for four raised gardens, each with appropriate seasonal plants.
And he's calling on all Durhamites to consider donating just $20 to the effort, hoping to raise enough funds to have a big impact on the community and the life of children within it.
Ensminger is also asking local civic groups, non-profits and others to help out with their time and money, be it in adopting a school for the program, helping out with the installation, or -- very importantly -- spending time "mentoring" the garden at a local school, helping make sure the school and its students make the most of the resource.