The Community garden project, starting in May 2014, created a sustainable community gardening project in cooperation with the Afterschool Program at Parker Bennett Curry Elementary. The school, located at 165 Webb Drive in Bowling Green, Kentucky has a School and District Report Card ranking in the 10th percentile in the state and is classified as “needs improvement” (Kentucky Department of Education, 2011). The racial composition of the school is 35.90% African American, 4.66 % Asian/Pacific Islander, 36.60 % Hispanic, and 22.84 % White (Kentucky Department of Education, 2012). In terms of academic achievement, Parker Bennett Curry Elementary School’s state report card shows 21.67 % proficiency in science on average compared to the state average of 70.53 % and 41% proficiency in language arts on average compared to the state average of 68% (Homefacts, 2011). In the 2012-2013, Parker Bennett Curry began the Community Eligibility Option (CEO), a universal free meal service (breakfast and lunch) for students in high-poverty areas.
The project teaches participants to plant heirloom vegetables and herbs that can be grown in the fall/spring school sessions with the intention of “seed-saving” to eventually create a community seed bank. Afterschool program participants learn to plant, measure and document growth, and understand the value of resiliency and sustainable community development. WKU students, members of the Community Farmer’s Market, and interdisciplinary faculty all play a role in addressing the interconnected pillars of sustainability. The project bridges four WKU colleges and allows for a broad range of multidisciplinary student involvement. Research suggests student-led service learning projects in community gardens develop a sense of commitment to place as the project develops. When colleges and universities provide a structure for students to contribute to the overall quality of the institution and bridge community, a sense of empowerment develops among faculty, students, and community stakeholders. Finally, developing a sustainable garden project in the community unites the three pillars of sustainability: 1) social equity is enhanced through cooperation and collaboration, 2) economics is considered in terms of consumerism, and 3) the environment is protected by promoting biodiversity. The project also provides opportunities for parental involvement, consistent with their Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (Bowling Green Independent School District, 2012).
In terms of personnel, funds from the iRCAP grant were used to acquire one graduate student for the first year to assist with data collection and analysis and one student worker for the fall semester to assist with building and design of the garden. Upper elementary and middle school students in the Afterschool Program, with the help of the WKU Teacher Education and Department of Agriculture student mentors, designed the plan for the garden area. Undergraduate and graduate students from the WKU Departments of Diversity and Community Studies, Social Work, Teacher Education, and Agriculture have a wide range of internship, field placement, and research opportunities at this site.
This project builds an infrastructure conducive for external funding and expansion of research opportunities for a number of departments and colleges on the WKU campus. One component of community gardening recently accumulating attention is seed-saving. Seed-saving allows gardening projects to achieve sustainability and drives home the idea of biodiversity and the importance of heirloom varietals in food security. Though little research is available, the theoretical underpinnings of sustainability motivate a need for seed-saving within school gardening. As the program evolves, the principles learned in seed-saving, the integration of sustainability in K-12 education, and enhanced resiliency will eventually lead to a sustainable community project. The project will beging planting in late March of 2015.
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