Using Dirt to Teach

by: Posted on: December 05, 2010

Lexi Koch grew up with no connection to the plants and physical labor that brought food to her table. Seven years ago, she decided it was imperative to change that for today’s youth. Alongside environmental educator Anaka Mines, Koch set out to bring to the students of the rural Methow Valley in the North Cascades that connection to the source of their food.  They began, in 2003, by approaching local science teachers and garnering their support.  Once the teachers agreed to the idea, school administrators became convinced that a school garden would help enrich science education and add to the school environment.

In the first year of Classroom in Bloom, only four teachers visited the garden and a few crops were grown.  During the second year, many more teachers became involved and the garden’s schedule began to fill up.  By the third year, fourteen elementary, middle, and high school classes were involved, helping enrich soil and produce substantial quantities of food.

Classroom in Bloom began as a project of an already existing non-profit.  As such, the program would be able to offer tax-deductions on donations.  Funding has largely come from individual private donors, as well as grant money from a variety of foundations, including the Public School Funding Alliance. This allowed most staff hours to be spent on program development instead of fund raising.  The program was able to carry on like this for five years.  Finally, it outgrew the non-profit it was under and found it necessary to form its own, unique non-profit.  Now, Classroom in Bloom functions under its own Board of Directors.

Today, 300 students visit the garden each week and revel in the opportunity to witness the magic of the seasons unfolding right outside their school.  Students take part in every aspect of the work needed to produce over 2000 pounds of food for their cafeteria.  There is not one student who protests the work.  From kindergarten through 10th grade, students feel blessed to be part of something that contributes to the entire school community.  They learn skills that they can proudly take home and apply in their own yards, and they work in teams with their classmates to accomplish jobs with measurable results.  The rewards are right before their eyes.

This year, CIB planted fruit trees that current kindergarteners will tend, watch grow, and then eventually harvest as they track the years of their lives through the seasons in the garden.  These students understand from an early age what foods they can eat fresh from the Methow Valley throughout the entire year.  They know how to build steaming hot compost piles as well and understand why they are important.  They have learned to be truly connected to the earth that they live on.  As these young people become adults and inherit the earth, they will be equipped with remarkable tools to be respectful stewards.

As this fall in the garden comes to a close, Classroom in Bloom is setting goals for the future.  This winter, an important objective is to be sure what students are learning inside their science classrooms is relevant to their work in the school garden.  The compost project is also expanding so that organic waste will be diverted from the landfill every day of the school year.

It has been an exciting seven years for Classroom in Bloom and its participants, yet still it feels like the journey and possibilities have only just begun.

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