2011 Echoing Green Fellowship

School Gardens Across America is thrilled to be chosen as a 2011 Echoing Green Semifinalist! From their announcement: "This year, Echoing Green received a record 2,854 applications for our 2011 Fellowship. Of these initial submissions, only ~200 applicants (the top 7%) are Semifinalists. So, what’s next? The Semifinal round requires several additional short essay questions, outside letters of reference (that you will upload yourself), and several supplementary assignments, all to be completed online, and due to Echoing Green by Monday January 24th at 12pm noon NYC time. After we receive your submission, multiple outside evaluators will review it. You may also be invited to participate in a phone interview or other follow-up. In late March, we will invite up to 30 Finalists for an expense-paid trip to New York City for in-person interviews, May 5-7, 2011. Of these Finalists, up to 20 will be selected as 2011 Fellows."

Here are the short answers that comprised School Garden Across America's successful first-round application:

1) NEW LANGUAGE- Summarize your organization in one sentence. (150 characters) *

We will reverse childhood obesity, end hunger and educate youth to make healthier food choices by growing an edible garden at every willing US school.

2. NEW LANGUAGE- Summarize your organization in one paragraph. (500 characters)

School Gardens Across America (SGAA) aims to dramatically improve child health and learning by increasing the popularity of campus gardens in the US. Studies prove that when kids are active in nature and eat well, they learn more. Focusing on high-poverty schools, I want all youth to gain opportunities to benefit from eating more fresh healthy foods. Youth connected early to nature and gardens will grow much more ecologically aware and practice lifelong attitudes of sustainable living.

3. What specific problem in the world are you trying to solve? Where possible, use statistics and references to identify the size and scope of the problem. (500 characters) *

Childhood obesity and poor nutrition are epidemic in the US. As of 2007 nearly 1/3 of youth aged 10 to 17 were overweight, double the # from 1988. Widespread availability of unhealthy food & drinks on school campuses has contributed to children's poor eating habits. Research shows that poor diet and lack of physical activity disrupt a child's ability to learn, decreasing motivation and attentiveness. Today’s youth are losing contact with nature and frequently alienated from its power to heal.

4. What, specifically, will be your program(s) or product(s)? Who will you work with? (1000 characters)

Core programs will be: 1) The School Gardens Challenge (SGC) 2) A high-quality/impact website dedicated to exponentially growing the school gardens movement 3) A national training program and professional association for school garden educators 4) A fund and campaign supporting development of edible gardens at high-poverty schools. For example, SGC will be national outreach effort with goals of: a) Linking up the numerous local & regional school gardening groups across US in coordinated national campaign. b) Inspiring educators, students & communities everywhere to adopt challenge of planting garden at every willing local school. c) Promoting school gardens as terrific all-win solution to policy makers, school administrators & public. d) Documenting & sharing best practices for sustainable garden-based education. Partners to include local school garden leaders across US plus national groups such as Real Food Challenge, FoodCorps, Farm-to-School Network, Slow Food USA, etc.

5. Describe the impact you hope to achieve. What is the time frame? What specific metrics will help you determine whether your work is making a difference and attacking the root cause of the problem? (1000 characters)

By 2015, I aim to achieve 10 or more school districts to have a garden planted at every school & the overall doubling of school gardens existing across the US. A website with world's best up-to-date comprehensive school gardens database will function as a central learning portal for thousands of teachers & students. Using on-line tools to help quantify impacts, we'll work to document data such as lower obesity rates & increases in eating healthy foods after student participation in school gardening curricula. By 2020, over 1/2 of US schools will feature on-campus edible food gardens & over 50 school districts will achieve goal of garden at every school. Child obesity rates plummet, nutritious food becomes widely accepted as universal right of youth, and the success of the school gardens revolution spurs a new generation of well-skilled, motivated young farmers to feed America. Dream: Dramatic rise in youth ecological literacy spearheads greening of US & world economies!

6. How does this approach represent bold innovation versus the status quo?

In the US school gardens world, the staus quo is represented by National Gardeners Association's www.KidsGardening.org. Sponsored in part by a pesticide corporation & featuring largely out-of-date school gardens registry, this site is minimally useful & fails to reflect the diversity & depth of real on-the-ground US school gardens movement. Worst, NGA has threatened to sue "competing" school garden groups. My approach values diversity, unites grassroots practitioners & community, emphasizes sustainable practices, upholds professional standards of excellence & will feature cutting-edge participatory website for benefit of all. In US education generally, the status quo is airtight prison-like buildings, awful processed cafeteria foods, yards with little or no green space, and kids who feel like caged animals. We'll turn this reality upside down by transforming green spaces, delicious healthy food, and naturally happy kids into the new calling cards of schools across the land.

7. How much money will this organization need in the next 12 months? In the year after? How much have you raised so far, if any? From whom? How do you plan to get the rest? (500 characters)

In next year, I'll need to minimally raise $10-$15,000 and at least twice (I hope 4x) that in the following year. So far, I have over $5,000 available as start-up funds (from family sources). In 2011, I may use Kickstarter.com fund-raising platform to hopefully raise over $10,000 more. A strategic partnership with EZGarden.com may provide some funds. I'm working immediately to solidify organizational status & structure, draft in-depth concept/business plans & create real fund-raising objectives.

8. Your interest in starting this organization makes you unlike most people. What in your personal, academic and/or work history compels you to dedicate your life to this idea at this time? (1000 characters)

From my studies abroad in Israel to my New Jersey college town to California, Washington, DC, and New Mexico, since 2000 I have repeatedly experienced the transformational power that often takes effect when youth receive opportunities to learn through hands-on engagement with sustainable food production. In my work & visits with numerous school gardening and farming projects, I've been awe-inspired by the positive changes that commonly result from cultivating the primal connection between children and earth. Now in NM again, I've returned to college (after earlier completing my BA) to earn my own teaching license. I'm compelled to dedicate my life to the idea of "Universal School Gardens" because, after much diligent activism and travels, I concluded this is how I can most positively impact the world. My academic history w/ school gardens extends from the Arava Inst. of Enviro. Studies in Israel to Rutgers' Student Organic Farm, the U. of NM, and most inspirationally, UC-Santa Cruz.

9. What skills or experiences demonstrate that you will you be able to attract money, people and other resources to your idea? (1000 characters)

After winning the "Ideas for Change in America" contest this spring, the positive feedback I've received from school garden leaders, sustainable food activists and progressive educators across the US has been overwhelming. Folks are hungry to help push this idea to the next level and my campaign is ideally situated to lead the charge. The strength of the idea itself is the best evidence, but through the outreach process I've led (including 5,000+ supporters in our Facebook group) we've already acquired what is by far the largest national grassroots school gardening network in the US. Since I've been traveling to many sustainable food gatherings & conferences nationally for several years while also building a reputation for honesty, intelligence, creativity and hard work, I've gained numerous valuable personal contacts who are excited to help accomplish this vision. My skills in communications outreach, social networking & strategic planning will help attract all I need to this idea.

10. What evidence do you have of your ability to overcome challenges and adversity? (1000 characters)

In 2000, I experienced the heart-breaking, life-changing event of witnessing the end of the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” while studying abroad in Israel at 2 English-language academies. This tragic memory, my huge love for that land, and the ensuing descent of the greater Middle East into a decade of war all impelled me to dedicate my whole life to the Arava Institute's motto, "Preserving Nature, Building Peace." Because I believe in this mission with all my heart and work for it with all my muscle, I've been able to overcome every major challenge I've faced, along with gracious help from friends & family. I must say the evidence is also written in my blood: My first role model for courage was my wise & loving grandfather, who fought to survive the Holocaust by escaping to hide with fellow refugees in the forests of East Europe, and then built a new family in America. He taught us to face life's adversity with boldness, compassion, quick wit, good humor and deep spiritual faith.

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