Many of us are disconnected from the origins of our food. As our intake of meat, sugar, and processed foods continues to increase, getting a little closer to the farms that feed our society can be an extremely enlightening and beneficial activity.
That’s why James Buishas, an 8th grade teacher at LEARN Charter School, chose to connect his students with the roots of their diet. Fortunately for the class, Chicago FarmWorks is their next door neighbor.
“It’s all such a brand new experience for our students – learning how food grows can be eye opening,” James said. “It’s a powerful thing to plant a seed and get the yield and the fruit from it.”
James has been a teacher for a decade in Chicago’s south side. He finds that the chance to pull his students out of their usual day to day to be a powerful learning opportunity. For the past two years, he and a handful of students have managed four community garden plots on the farm.
The class has been growing a variety of fruits and vegetables each year. They spend time weeding, watering, and harvesting every week – with enough fruits and vegetables to bring back to class AND back to their families.
“The whole school loves it. The students love it, and the staff and faculty get really thrilled to have organic produce.”
For James and his students, gardening is a release. It’s an artistic expression. It’s a creative outlet. The time the class has out on the farm is an escape from the everyday chaos. Instead of the regular structure of a classroom, the garden allows his students to reconnect with nature, smell the herbs, hear the birds, and learn in new ways.
“No doubt, the time away from the screens is integral. When we expose these kids to something they’ve never seen before, and giving the chance to let these kids know that they CAN DO THIS – man it’s really rewarding.”
The students choose what produce to grow every year, providing them both a chance to flex their agency AND grow their interest in eating fresh foods. Watermelon, cucumbers, and tomatoes are always popular – but the class seems to be particularly infatuated with herbs like mint, rosemary, and dill.
East Garfield Park is one of the many food insecure neighborhoods in Chicago. James and the LEARN Charter School find the opportunity to instill this sense of wonder in fresh produce to be an incredible benefit.
“Most of these kids are eating hot chips and other stuff out of plastic bags on a daily basis. You know kids are always a little pickier about food – and changing perspectives on produce can change the way they eat for life.”
That excitement for fresh, locally grown produce has been infectious. James’s gardening elective at LEARN Academeny has been wildly popular, with more kids hoping to sign up year over year. Students have told James that they are starting gardens at home.
At Heartland Alliance, we couldn’t be more thrilled. These experiences are exactly why we built Chicago FarmWorks – to connect communities with their food and provide access to locally grown healthy food options. Thanks to people like James and the students at LEARN, the positive impacts are starting to compound.
“This is such a great activity for our students, and we’re really fortunate that the folks at Heartland Alliance are always looking to bring their neighbors onto the farm.”