Going Local Leads to School Garden in Portland

Going Local Leads To School Garden In Portland

Wed 03 Aug 2011

Story by Marnie Bennett

Building A Community Through The Language Of Food In Markhams Real Food Garden

Two years ago, my husband and I decided to really search out where our food came from and make shopping local a priority. We had always had a vegetable garden, but this was a whole new world and we took on a personal challenge to eat almost entirely local for one year. We started spending each Sunday morning at our neighborhood farmer’s market talking to farmers and ranchers about their practices and sustainability.

We eat seasonally and source everything locally if there is a choice. If the tomatoes are from Canada or Mexico, we don’t buy them, we wait. And wait. That first winter at the market was pretty bleak, and I have a whole new appreciation for kale - I almost cried when the first asparagus hit the stands in March.

We realized the wonderful impact this was having on our seven year old son and how he thought about his food. One night at dinner my husband said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this for all the kids at his school?” And I immediately said “Why don’t we build a garden?” He turned to our son and said “Your Mom is brilliant!” and so the idea for the Markham Real Food Garden was born.

Markham Elementary is a wonderful school, and very unique in this area. We are a Title 1 school, with over 50% of our students eligible for free or reduced lunch, and have a very diverse population culturally with a large Somali community and 25% of our kids that are English language learners. We felt that beyond the obvious educational impact growing food can have; we could build community through the language of food.

We were lucky to have the strong support of our Principal, the custodian and the PTA, and got to work. There was no money in the budget for this type of project, so we asked for donations, held fundraisers and applied for grants. In May of 2010 we received the amazing news that we had been given a grant for $5000 from a major home improvement chain to begin our work!

We broke ground and with the determined effort of many volunteers, parents, students, local church members and even a young man working towards his Eagle Scout status brought his scout troop. We assembled and filled 14 raised beds in one LONG day. It made my heart swell with pride at what we accomplished.

Currently I work with the teachers and organize volunteers to help the student’s plant, tend and harvest. The day before school let out for the summer we finally were able to serve salad of lettuce, spinach and radish grown right in our courtyard and the kids were thrilled! They saw their food from seed to harvest which was our biggest goal of the project. We have a lot of winter vegetables growing now: potatoes, squash, and of course kale and we plan to have many more harvest days in this next school year.

About the author: Marnie is a part-time hair colorist, artist, full time mother of a nine year old boy and the sustainability coordinator at her son’s elementary school in Portland Oregon.


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