How does your garden grow?
If you’re a Lawrence school, you grow through grass-roots support.
Several student gardens have sprouted up over the past few years at area public and private schools. But seed money for the gardens is scarce. That’s where the Homegrown Lawrence Festival comes in.
On Friday, Oct. 14, the second-year local food extravaganza hopes to raise plenty of funds to help get more school garden projects off the ground. The strategy? Entice with food, education and entertainment.
The festival, which was called Our Local Food Fest last year, will treat guests to food catered from The Merc, beer from 23rd Street Brewery and Free State Brewing Company, a balloonist, talks about local school garden projects, films from high school students and performances by four area bands. Tickets are divided into full (food and music) passes for $20 and non-food passes for $10. It’s a something-for-everyone approach organizers hope will appeal to all parts of the community.
“Some people are probably going to be there just for the food. And some people may be interested to watch the presentations for the school gardens. And some people may come just to watch the bands,” says organizer Brian Edie. “We want to have options for everybody.”
Edie says the idea for the festival came out of a Leadership Lawrence class a few years ago. Class members thought that tying the local food movement with the school system would be a way to help out the area’s economics and stave off the childhood obesity struggle.
“We thought that this idea of having locally grown foods used in the school system might be a way to tackle a lot of those same issues that were on our minds,” Edie says. “We kind of researched it there and thought that a festival might be the best way to raise community awareness.”
Part of that research included attending the first Farm to School lunch at Cordley School in May 2010. One of the organizers of that event, Rick Martin, then the executive chef at Free State Brewery, ended up connecting with Edie and the Leadership Lawrence folks to help plan last year’s festival. By that time, Martin had helped with several of the area school gardens and become a passionate advocate for teaching children about whole foods. A partnership seemed natural then and is even more natural now, as Martin is just a few months removed from starting to work with students’ perceptions of food in a more direct role — as a culinary arts teacher at Eudora High School.
The festival is designed to raise both awareness and funds, the idea being that school gardens are the first step toward both teaching kids about healthy whole foods and getting those types of foods into school meals. Money raised from ticket sales to the event and donations given both through the event’s website, www.homegrownlawrence.com, and at the festival itself will go directly to helping start area gardens says Martin, who just planted Eudora High’s first-ever food garden seeds last month.
“We put that money into the Lawrence Schools Foundation and it will stay in a fund that will be specified for school garden projects,” Martin says of the festival’s fund-raising. “When a new project starts, usually the biggest hurdle is, ‘Well, we really want to do this but we don’t have the money and we don’t know where to start to get it.’ We can provide that seed money and give $300 or $400 to a garden project to get them off the ground. Because once you have that seed money, it’s usually sustainable if it’s managed properly.”
The gardens are the perfect stepping stone toward getting fresh produce into our schools because of a provision in the Child Nutrition Act, which governs food in the public food system.
“I think there’s a lot more freedom than we think with individual school systems,” Martin says. “It’s stated in the school Child Nutrition Act that food grown on campus can be used in the cafeteria. There’s nothing that prohibits that at all. That’s a pretty big shortcut there. We’re growing food and it can be used in the cafeteria, not only is that an educational value to the students, but it’s savings for the school system that’s already strapped for money right now.”
To get that shortcut to be utilized to its fullest, getting the word out is key. Also key is patience — going from planting gardens to a total makeover of what ends up on school lunch trays is going to take time as well as support.
“Ultimately, I think it’s important to get better food into our school lunch system,” Martin says. “But we realize there’s not a whole lot we can do right now, the system is already doing what it can, but the more that we promote school garden projects and Farm to School and local food endeavors, the closer we get to having better food for our children in cafeterias and opening doors for those food service administrators who are operating cafeterias to have more choices and less regulation.
“And the only way that’s going to happen is for more people to ask for it.”
For more information about the event, see the full story on [www.lawrence.com.]