This week, SFC's Grow Local program spoke with Cameron Allen of The SEED Adult and Family Learning Community at Mendez Middle School to find out more about this unique school and community garden project that has unfolded over the last year. Cameron attended SFC's Grow Local School Garden Leadership Training last September and enrolled the garden in Grow Local’s Spread the Harvest program. We hope this garden story inspires you!
My grandfather always said that he’d killed many more plants than he’d managed to keep alive. It always seemed strange to hear, but growing older, I have come to an understanding of what he might have meant. Struggle and failure in gardening, academics, relationships, and business can be powerful learning experiences. Such it is with our community garden.
We are The SEED Adult and Family Learning Community, an organization that gives adult English language learners the opportunity to make decisions about their classes, schedule, and all other aspects of the growth of the organization. We strive to provide forums in which our learners can become teachers of parenting strategies, cooking, accounting, construction, and happily, gardening.
From September through June, thanks to a partnership with The Austin Project’s Family Resource Center at Mendez Middle School, the SEED had a home. As with any home, we worked to make it feel like our own. And thus the idea of gardening in the abandoned beds was born.
We started with loads of supplies from SFC’s Spread the Harvest program, namely seeds and compost, a host of hard working volunteers and their families, and eight small weedy beds. Over Spring Break, we spent hours at the garden weeding, cleaning, and planning the beds. This, of course, meant negotiating the opportunities and limitations of growing in Central Texas, recognizing our own biases towards some and against other foods, and overcoming our initial challenges in using the school’s resources on the school’s schedule.
After that first week, three participants from our English Literacy and Leadership class were rising above the rest, demonstrating a perfect mix of experience and passion for growing food. These three - Lilia, Juanita, and Nicandro - were named the Leaders of the Garden and to this day make up the Garden Team. We’re very proud of the team for stepping up when others needed them, making tough decisions about the garden, and sacrificing lots of time and effort to make it viable.
We started harvesting soon thereafter - radishes, kale, parsley, basil, zucchini, zucchini flowers, jalapeños and tomatoes. Over the next few months, we were able to donate approximately 25 pounds of food to families in Southeast Austin, many of them English language learners.
As the school year came to a close, access to the garden became increasingly limited. Our room wasn’t available, so we bounced around various locations. Naturally, it was difficult to manage the garden without access to water. With the recent rains, we were able to complete one harvest, probably our last for the school year, which consisted of tomatoes, kale, and loads of basil that were distributed amongst our families.
As the summer goes along and our prospects for finding a permanent home remain unclear, our main hope is that wherever we land, we’ll have plenty of space to continue our gardening.