IATP Fellowship DRAFT Application

1) What's your fresh idea? In 1,000 characters (including spaces) or less, what is your one “Fresh Idea” for a better food system?

America needs a grassroots push to implement my idea to grow a sustainable food garden at every school in the nation. In recent years, the popularity of school gardening has grown across the US. But the full potential & power of this trend is yet to be realized. In 2010, my idea for universal school gardens won the national “Ideas for Change in America” competition. The next mission is to launch a campaign & coalition putting this idea into action, with a core focus on growing gardens at high-poverty schools. My emerging “School Gardens Across America” network aims to link the many localized school garden efforts into a cohesive national organized framework. A “School Gardens Challenge” will rally communities & educators all over the US to adopt the goal of planting a garden at every school. By uniting in this way, school garden leaders will succeed at substantially increasing support, participation & funding for this key strategy to enhance children’s health, nutrition & learning.

2) How will your project address inequalities in the food system?
In 2,500 characters (including spaces) or less, describe how your project, as well as the strategies you will be using, will address the current and historical racial, economic and/or health inequities in the food system.

In the school gardening (SG) movement, like the food system overall, racial & economic inequity hurts the ability of many youth to access fresh healthy foods. The county where I’m studying to teach - known as NM’s poorest (with population over 80% Hispanic + Native) - is one example. In richer cities like Santa Fe & Albuquerque, SG is thriving. More grow there every year, yet few still exist in rural NM. Plus, Farm-to-School takes tons of produce from my area’s farms to feed city kids, even as little enters local cafeterias. Many SG & school food reform efforts around the US are working to bridge this poverty gap, yet it largely continues to persist.

My project will highlight this inequity & unite the SG community to tackle it. A great need exists for shared documentation on best practices, common challenges, and opportunities for cooperative action to apply & address them. The 1st year will focus on inquiry, outreach & network building across the US to create a unified framework for launching the nat’l project. One result will be publishing a study aiming to coalesce the experience & wisdom of diverse SG leaders. I’ll also work intensively in NM to bridge the local SG poverty gap, with a focus in Bernalillo, Rio Arriba & Taos Counties. As the nat’l research & planning takes place, a practical step to build momentum will be lobbying Congress to fund SG in the 2012 Farm Bill. A further focus of the 1st year will be lining up other funding prospects for the nat’l project.

Challenges we must address in depth include food safety, curriculum integration, staffing/training concerns, and how to institutionalize SG over the long term. Each of these (and more) has special relevance to high-poverty contexts. In the 2nd year, a community-driven, evidence-based “School Gardens Challenge” will be launched across the US. This project will complement (not compete with) FoodCorps, USDA SG Pilot Program, and countless local/regional SG efforts. One unique interest I have is exploring technology use to enhance the SG experience, as both rich & poor schools are embracing more high-tech tools. For example, what type of nat'l website could be most useful for SG teachers? For students? Can SG curriculae be collected, reviewed & shared online?

The SG movement has reached a climax point & now faces a tough political + economic climate. Failure to learn & unite together could result in SG getting rolled back. My project is essential to sustain long-term SG growth!


January 4, 2011

Dear IATP Food and Society Fellows Program,

Thank you for this opportunity to apply for the 2011-13 IATP Food and Society Fellowship!

My love affair with sustainable food began as a college student studying abroad in 2000 at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, where I attended a remarkable hands-on course in sustainable agriculture taught by a prominent female farmer and ecologist. Through my diverse experiences working to support and expand sustainable food systems in the United States since then, the most powerful and inspiring work I’ve participated in has been a number of efforts to engage children and young adults with the educational, nutritional, health and social benefits of local organic foods and gardening. From apprenticing with a biodynamic CSA farm and learning center in Albuquerque, to volunteering with the Washington Youth Garden in the District of Columbia, and much more, I have repeatedly seen and helped to catalyze the transformational change and multi-dimensional learning that is unleashed when youth are empowered to grow, cook, eat and study real food.

These experiences are so deep, meaningful and galvanizing for many youth that I have come to the conclusion that all youth should have the opportunity to benefit personally and educationally from a direct relationship with sustainable food. One of the best ways to make this happen is with school-based edible gardening. Yet while a school gardens movement is rapidly gaining in popularity across the US, the majority of American K-12 students still do not have access to it. In particular, many youth attending school in communities with high levels of racial diversity and economic poverty – who could benefit most from increased contact with fresh sustainable foods – are suffering from the apparent “poverty gap” in school garden placement. In 2010, I took a first step to change this by winning the Ideas for Change in America contest for my vision of “Good Food for All Kids: A Garden at Every School.”

This victory – out of over 2,500 competing ideas – did succeed in proving the huge popular appeal of school gardening as a method for positive social change, but it did not provide funding or a sufficient platform to implement the idea. To follow up, I also launched the “School Gardens Across America” group on Facebook, now grown to over 5,000 members. This is by far the largest school gardening network in the US, but it too has limited capacity to mobilize action. The urgent need now, and my goal, is to unite the numerous grassroots, community-based school gardening groups across the US through a cohesive, participatory coalition and campaign centered on the strategic goals of solidifying public support for existing school gardens while investing in their establishment at all interested schools.

On a national policy level, we will rally the school gardening community and lobby Congress to secure funding for school gardens in the 2012 Farm Bill. Our community organizing emphasis, led by local school garden leaders and volunteers, will undertake comprehensive food system mapping to determine the current scope and aspirational growth potential of the school garden movement. This will enable firm documentation of the extent to which a true poverty gap exists in school garden placement.

Whatever we find, my core objective will be to expand the presence of edible food gardens at high-poverty schools. To help achieve this, among other steps, I will lead a national fundraising drive and publicity campaign to ensure that poverty is no longer a barrier to any school that both desires a sustainable food garden and demonstrates the essential readiness to sustain it and commitment to fully integrate it into the academic curriculum. Best practices will be documented and shared to maximize the success rate of gardens in the context of the unique challenges that high-poverty schools face.


In my current position as Southwest Regional Director and Online Campaigns and Media Coordinator with the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFed), I am working to help lead the proliferation of student-led, cooperatively-run storefronts and cafes providing “real food” – local, sustainable, healthful, and ethical – at affordable prices on college campuses throughout the US. Although I joined CoFed after initiating School Gardens Across America, there exists a strong natural alignment between our distinct missions. In essence, we believe that today’s school gardening youth are more likely to grow into tomorrow’s passionate, well-skilled student food co-op leaders, who in turn will continue being catalysts of positive change for sustainable food systems after college. Through my regional and national role with CoFed, I am already immersed in processes of building relationships with diverse stakeholders – education professionals, media producers, student leaders, sustainable food allies – who ideally would play instrumental parts in helping to advance the vision of universal school gardens.


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