The following story is in response to a post that I put up a couple of days ago. Over the weekend I paid a visit to a garden at Canalside, tended by students at ECC’s Culinary Arts Learning Program. After seeing the post, and some of the responses from commentors, ECC’s Jody Allsbrook sent along an email to further explain the presence of the garden, and its effects on the community. Following is her response:
I am the instructor of ‘Learning in a Working Garden’ HC 142 at Erie Community College. My class is a diverse group of students mostly from the Culinary and Nutrition school. We meet Monday, Tuesday and Thursday’s from 8:30am until 10:45am rain or shine… mostly rain. Creating this class has been an amazing adventure for me, Kristen Goss and Regina Lettieri. Here is a little glimpse into the last 5 years of developing this garden and class, oh and by the way I encourage people to come in and look at the plants and our signage. I just ask that guests be respectful. So far we have been very lucky!
So here is my story…
I attended the Art Institute of Charlotte. While in college I learned that while I enjoyed cooking food, I particular liked cooking things that I had grown myself. I like the potential of purple and pink carrots and red lettuces. It just makes the work more colorful! So my friend and I petitioned to turn this old scraggly volley ball court into an organic garden for the culinary school to use. This garden is still in use today and it an integral part of the final practicum taken by graduating seniors.
Rewind, 5 years, I am the expediter at the Buffalo Club. Stuck inside all summer working in a kitchen… it’s sticky, it’s hot and the only escape is a cigarette break (for those who take them). So I ask the Chef if I can start a garden to provide fresh edible flower and herb for the kitchen. Sweet escape! They agree and boom, garden on the roof. During that time, one of the line cooks introduced me to Kristen Goss, nutrition teacher at E.C.C. city campus. As it turns out, Kristen has been looking to start a class for E.C.C. students similar to the class I started at my college. This was five years ago…
When Kristen and I first met we needed to create a course outline and petition it to the college to even consider the idea of creating a class like this. This was continuously turned down by the college for a variety of creative reasons; one being the ability to find land close enough to the college that students could walk. We looked at spaced in the west of Richmond area and east side they were too far away from the school.
It was a tedious search until Regina Lettieri, Service Learning facilitator at E.C.C. city. Regina was already working on a project with Canalside to build the extra large yellow Adirondack chair and offered to set up a meeting for Kristen and me, to beg them for land, we had our meeting and they seemed excited! They let us know that our spot was only temporary and had sun but not the best. But for Kristen and me, this meant we did it… our five year pipe dream had bloomed!
So fast forward to today, our mission is to give students access to the ins and outs of growing fresh organic vegetables; while introducing them to gardening, cooking and preservation techniques. The majority of the students taking ‘Learning in a Working Garden’ receive SNAP benefits. We believe the fundamental error in the SNAP program is that education about how and what to feed yourself is missing. This error results in an epidemic of diet based diseases.
Beyond nutrition, gardening is a wonderful way to take a step back from life and relax. Watching students learn that they love gardening because of this reason is so gratifying.
‘Learning in a Working Garden’ students also discuss at depth the interaction of gardeners/ farmers and the eco system around them. We talk about pesticides, fungicides and herbicides and how to avoid using them. We discuss beneficial pollinators and predator insects and why they are necessary. Our gardens are lined with oyster mushroom mycelium, to help create an inert state of heavy metals, petroleum products and insoluble salts left in the soil from years of industrialization.
I hope that this gives you a glimpse of our program. Please check out our Facebook at The Learning Garden by Erie Community College at Canalside.