This post is written by our 2019-2020 FoodCorps service member, Emily Brown. Throughout the year, we’ll hear Emily’s reflections and observations working at Backyard Growers with the public school programs.
At the beginning of the school year I was working in the school gardens, usually alone, getting them ready for the start of the school year and our district wide harvest days. Weeding, watering, pruning, and cleaning pathways. Nervously counting the number of pumpkins we had in our beds versus the number of first graders expecting to harvest one. Hoping the carrots would be big enough to satisfy our kindergarteners and that there would be enough potatoes slowly growing underground for every fourth grader to find one. There was a bustle to the work that was very disconnected from the students we aim to impact, but that disconnect would soon be bridged.
My first harvest day was at West Parish Elementary School. We were barely through 1⁄4 of the school, before the sky opened and it began to rain. There was a panic that washed over Corinne and I as we stood in the garden soaking wet at 10am. As new staff members at Backyard Growers, there was a hesitation to make any decisions as we wondered how our past counterparts would have handled it. Do we force kids to harvest in the rain for the sake of staying on schedule? Do we finish harvesting tomorrow, throwing the entire two and a half weeks of harvest off rotation? Will the cafeteria staff have enough time to prep the vegetables if we moved the taste test to a different day? Questions that feel like nobody else but us would ever have to answer. We were lucky enough to have a few absolutely stellar West Parish parent volunteers with us to help us talk through and staff a solution. We decided to call the harvest off and finish up the harvest on that Friday meaning the taste test landed on our harvest at Veterans on the following Monday. But with the help of the community we were able to get it done and the next 2 weeks were a whirlwind of beautiful beans at Beeman Memorial, three pronged carrots at Vets, beets galore at East Gloucester and potatoes the size of my student’s heads at Plum Cove.
In September alone, I had the opportunity to join about 1,300 elementary school children in their school garden to harvest about 650 lbs of produce and, with the help of many volunteers and incredible kitchen staff, I cooked and served all those beautiful vegetables in every public elementary school cafeteria in Gloucester. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tired, but I am also incredibly humbled and revitalized by the smiling faces asking for seconds of veggies they wouldn’t have touched a week before. I went from working alone in the gardens to being recognized from cars driving down Beacon street — arms and heads stretch at the window to wave at me — and I can’t help but light up when my students walk into the room (or the garden).
- Emily Brown, FoodCorps Service Member