plants, walk way, people walking

Big Green x Hairstory

June update from Melissa Chananie, Big Green National Development Manager:

“We’re now reaching over 19,000 students and have been able to produce 7 weeks of content for distance-learning. As we move into summer, many of our districts have allowed staff back onto school grounds, and we are cultivating over 125 of our Learning Gardens with local food access organizations and initiatives. We will continue to produce at-home lessons and activities over the summer, focusing on building families’ food resiliency – especially important as this crisis persists. It’s because of donors like you that we’ve been able to serve so many students, families, and teachers over the past few months.”
We’re happy to help.

Hairstory has made philanthropy a priority from the start, and as the world’s waters get a much needed break from human activity during this Pandemic period, we elected to shift our fundraising focus with 1% for the Planet and award a quarter of our 2020 proceeds to an organization we’d like you to know about: Big Green and the Learning Gardens they have created in 51 underserved, urban schools. We asked Melissa Chananie, National Development Manager, to tell us more.

What is a Learning Garden?

Learning Gardens are dynamic outdoor classrooms and productive edible gardens we have installed in underserved schools in Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Detroit. Learning Gardens help kids dig into their education, thrive with real, nutritious foods and healthy habits, and become active participants in strengthening their communities.

The gardens are made up of modular, raised beds and include seating and shade to make them attractive places to teach. Standing at 19 inches tall, our garden beds are the perfect size for kids to be eye level with soil and plants.

What does starting a Learning Garden at an underserved school look like?

Big Green starts at the school district level to get our programs into more schools in each community and ensure that we have the support we need to be successful.

We can make Learning Gardens an experience from kindergarten through high school with access to a healthy outdoor learning space. That student who learns how to use her fingers to show how a rain cloud works in elementary school can grow into a student who learns about healthy food choices in middle school, and about local food systems and real food entrepreneurship in high school.

How do you decide which schools to work with? How long does it take to develop the program?

For the most part, schools never pay to receive a Learning Garden; all they need to do is fill out an application! Our work is focused on underserved schools where we can make the biggest impact. The full process from application to construction takes anywhere from 3-6 months, with construction taking 10 days on average.

Once a garden is built, our staff guides schools through planting and harvesting so students can enjoy all the fresh fruits and vegetables they’ve grown. We never walk away from a school we work with; we’re there to support educators, teach students, and keep that Learning Garden thriving!

What do you hope kids learn after interacting with Big Green?

We see a future when kids, no matter where they live, have access to nature and fresh food. We want kids to not only taste vegetables, but to love them.

We know one of the best ways to get kids eating more fruits and vegetables is to participate in growing them. Kids who have a Learning Garden at their school are more likely to ask their parents to purchase their favorite fruits and vegetables, and are even more likely to start a garden at home. We’re excited to grow an entire generation of real food lovers who learn in an outdoor environment made just for them and take what they’ve learned into their communities and beyond.

We see a future when kids, no matter where they live, have access to nature and fresh food. We want kids to not only taste vegetables, but to love them.

How much produce is typically grown at a Learning Garden, and where does it go?

Learning Gardens produce at least two harvests per school year, sometimes more. A typical school will produce about 30 pounds of produce per harvest, though some harvest over 100 pounds of food at once.

Food grown in a Learning Garden is used in a variety of ways and often is up to the school. Many send veggies home with kids along with recipes and cooking tips; some serve them in the cafeteria or classroom, and others do in-garden tastings.

Why was it important for you to adapt your program during the Coronavirus pandemic?

School closures mean our Learning Gardens are on hold right now. But we know that kids need to keep learning and that nature and gardening can be healing for them. The students we serve already experience disparities in access to education, health, and food – and removing them from school means potentially widening those opportunity gaps. Adapting to a remote format now means that our students can still keep their minds and bodies engaged and their work on track. It also means we can reach more students than ever and be a resource for families and educators in cities we haven’t built Learning Gardens in yet.

What was Big Green’s main focus when adapting the program?

Our main focus was meeting the needs of our communities. We’ve developed three different programs to do just that. We created Homegrown to provide hands-on activities, video lessons, and more to keep kids curious about their world around them and learn about nature and nutrition. We’re working with teachers to provide our K-12 nutrition curriculum online free of charge, so they can continue to teach their students during this time. And lastly, as soon as we’re safely able to, we want to start planting so communities have fresh food – turning our nearly 650 Learning Gardens into community Victory Gardens!

What is the main goal of the “Home Grown” initiative and how will it impact kids while they participate in distant learning?

The main goal of Homegrown is simple – keep kids learning. We’ve launched our Big Green at Home website which will have all of the tools and resources we’re creating in one easy-to-access place. Families will get weekly emails with activities for different age groups, and we’ll be regularly checking in with them to see what they’re finding useful, educational, and fun.

How have you teamed up with teachers to support them remotely?

We’re lucky to work with thousands of dedicated teachers across the country, and are excited to continue supporting them. We have developed online training so that when they return to school, they have all the skills they need to be incredible outdoor educators. We’re providing our curriculum free of charge so that teachers can incorporate our lessons into their remote plans.

How are Learning Gardens serving students while school districts are closed?

Our Learning Gardens are waiting for schools to reopen! We’re also exploring ways to safely get our staff back to the gardens so they can plant and provide critical supplies of fresh produce for their communities.