A group of students at Treadwell Middle School are getting a hands-on education in agriculture, nutrition, and the importance of community and teamwork through their school's community garden. And that's caught the attention of the federal government.
The school's use of urban gardening as a learning tool and outreach program opened the door for a visit last week from Ann Bartuska, the deputy under secretary for the Department of Agriculture's research, education, and economics programs.
She's part of a task force to promote and advance urban gardening, and that brought her to Memphis to tour gardens at Treadwell, Jones Orchard, and Knowledge Quest, among others.
- Alexandra Pusateri
- USDA’s Ann Bartuska (in the red jacket) meets with Treadwell students.
"We've been trying to put [the Department of Agriculture's programs] all together in urban areas because of the growth of interest and to respond to food deserts," Bartuska said. "One way is through self-empowerment. Another way is through teaching kids science, technology, engineering, and math through gardening. All of this seems to come together in an urban community garden-type setting, so seeing these kinds of successes are really helpful."
Daniel DeShon, a special education teacher, started the Green Thumbs 4H Garden Club at Treadwell more than two years ago. DeShon is a proponent of teaching kids about nutrition, which prompted the launch of the garden club.
That also prompted him to apply for a grant to install a salad bar in the cafeteria — one that would be filled with the bounties of the school's community garden.
The 4-H and garden clubs at Treadwell joined forces for the garden. DeShon, who is also the adviser to the 4-H Club, was a horticulturalist for 30 years.
Brandasia Gooch, the president of the 4-H Club, loves working in the garden. (Her favorites are the strawberries and grapes.)
"I love to garden," she said. "My auntie loves to garden, too. I love to practice in her yard. I just love it."
The 4-H gardening club promotes parental involvement. Felisha Williams, Gooch's mother, was a member of a 4-H Club when she was younger.
"I want her to go farther than I did, and I want her children to go farther than she did," Williams said.
Nonprofits like The Kitchen Community have stepped in to help Treadwell with the community garden. The
nonprofit donated raised garden beds and benches to create a complete outdoor educational environment. The garden has received grants from Lowe's and Memphis City Beautiful, and it continues to grow.
"It was very obvious that kids needed something else besides just sitting in the classroom," DeShon said. "At the first project we had, six kids showed up. When we have a project now, we have as many as 80 kids show up. It became quickly obvious when we started working outside on Saturdays, kids would start pouring out of houses from the neighborhood into where we were working. They really wanted something to do. They were looking for something to do besides sit inside and play video games."
These days, instead of watching basketball and football games together on Friday nights, many residents of the neighborhood around Treadwell are building up the community garden for everyone to enjoy.
"This is the power of community gardens," Bartuska said. "It becomes a gathering place."