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Grow Schoolyard Farms

It’s not news that school gardens greatly benefit children. Kids involved in a school garden program have more positive attitudes toward fruits and vegetables, higher self-esteem, an improved ability to learn, and on and on. It’s also not news that edible school gardens that circle their food back to the cafeteria increase the likelihood of children eating fruits and vegetables and create food security in our urban and suburban areas.

What we haven’t figured out, yet, is how to build school gardens that sustain over time and serve the school to the fullest. Many school gardens rely on parent and teacher volunteers to build and maintain the project. Too often, volunteer turnover results in the gardens turning fallow. Teachers often feel unequipped to teach in an outdoor setting, leaving the garden underutilized.  

A new organization, Schoolyard Farms, seeks to remedy this problem by partnering farmers with schools. Unlike Edible Schoolyard and FoodCorps–two admirable organizations that help schools build and maintain school gardens with the support of grant funding and donations–Schoolyard Farms is using a social enterprise model that generates profit by marketing the produce and hosting fee-for-service programs like a summer camp, in addition to receiving grants and donations.

Schoolyard Farms installs, cultivates and manages the school farm and teaches weekly garden-based classes to the partnering school’s students. In exchange for these services, we are allowed to sell the produce we grow and use the land free of charge. This hybrid model sustains the school farm and can be replicated at other schools.

At Schoolyard Farms’ pilot farm at Candy Lane Elementary in Milwaukie, Oregon (just south of Portland) we have cultivated three-quarters of an acre of the schoolyard, sold over 2,000 lbs. of produce to 20 CSA members, farmers markets and Head Start and taught weekly garden classes to over 250 students.  Schoolyard Farms is the only organization if its kind in Oregon to build market farms on schoolyards with the intention of selling the food back to the school cafeteria and one of only a few in the nation, though Sprout City Farms in Denver, Colorado is also very similar.

As the founders of Schoolyard Farms, Justin Davidson and I, met while apprenticing at Zenger Farm, a leader in Oregon in the educational farm sector. The invaluable knowledge we gained at Zenger Farm gave us the tools to start our own organization.

Schoolyard Farms launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo three weeks ago to raise funds for the expansion of our pilot farm. The funds will be used to build a fence, an outdoor classroom and kitchen and pay for our 501(c)(3) filing fees.

The outdoor classroom and kitchen will improve the educational experience for the kids who come to the farm each week and will provide a space to host a farm-based summer camp where kids will learn to garden, harvest, and cook fresh produce. Once we attain federal nonprofit status, we will be able to apply for grants and receive donations which, in turn, will allow us to continue our work and grow to other schools.

Schoolyard Farms envisions a farm on every schoolyard that can feed its cafeteria. As we work through expansion at Candy Lane, we are creating a recipe for success at the next Schoolyard Farm. By supporting Schoolyard Farms you are contributing to the reality of farms on every schoolyard and fresh, local produce for every kid.

If you believe every kid deserves healthy food and an outdoor space to learn, please support Schoolyard Farms by donating to our Indiegogo campaign from now until December 6!

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