Three Years, Thirteen Football Fields Worth of School Gardens

In the spring of 2010, 60 people met in downtown Detroit to talk about a new idea. Three years later, the concept honed in that Detroit hotel conference room is now a national organization supporting some 80 corps members in 12 states around the country. Last month the service members, fellows, staff and board of FoodCorps returned to Detroit. 

We gathered for trainings, conversation, and immersion in Detroit’s urban farms and gardens. We delved into issues of food justice and inequity, both local and national. We heard from local leaders about their organizations and companies, and the career paths they’ve followed. And, of course, we got our hands dirty on some field trips.

It’s not easy bringing everyone together in person, but these meetings are an important part of the experience for our service members, and they’re critical to helping FoodCorps learn as we grow.

Detroit provided an important backdrop for this event. Like many of the communities we serve, Detroit faces high rates of childhood obesity and food insecurity, economic hardship, and institutionalized inequality. At the same time, Detroit is a place where local solutions to these problems are taking root. Detroit is addressing its challenges through strategic and thoughtful community organizations and leaders who have stepped up to build thriving new communities centered on food and agriculture. We’re proud to be a part of this through partnerships with organizations like the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network––one of our service sites in Detroit, where FoodCorps service member Whitney Smith is spending her year.

While together, we celebrated our accomplishments since August: reaching nearly 55,000 children in 300 schools, giving them opportunities to gain knowledge of what real food is in the classroom, to engage hands-on with fruits and vegetables in school gardens, and to get access to farm-fresh ingredients in their cafeterias. And while our metrics of success this year are strong (13 football fields worth of school gardens! 2,000 volunteers! 230 healthy items added to lunch menus!), our proudest accomplishments come in the form of stories.

That’s why, while in Detroit, we held our first ever “FoodTalks,” an evening of storytelling that we recorded, and can be seen on YouTube. We had a chance to hear from service members in each state about how they see FoodCorps service working in their communities; about students who have taught them as much as they’re teaching; about the people in their lives who inspired them to get involved in food and farming; and about where they see themselves headed after FoodCorps service. Jen Rusciano, another of our FoodCorps service members in Detroit, explained to us how her student, “Jay,” who usually struggled with school, found connection and pride through the small food business he created with his peers.

These are the stories that fuel our service members to keep doing what they do. Each of them could tell a similar story, about a child who fell in love with gardening, about a school food director who was willing to think outside the box.

We hope you’ll take a moment to watch some of these beautiful stories, and maybe feel inspired to start telling your own.

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