Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Community Conversations: Abby Jaramillo and Audrey Roderick, Urban Sprouts

Welcome to Community Conversations. In this column, I reflect on meetings I have with organizations, businesses, and public institutions trying to make a change in the world by working together. My goal is to unearth the connections between these conversations. It is my hope that it will lead to more holistic and collaborative programming and services spurred by The S. Kitchen across San Francisco, the Bay Area, California, the United States, and the world.

Last week, I met with the fabulous people at Urban Sprouts. I have worked alongside and with Executive Director and founder Abby Jaramillo for over five years now. Abby and her team are doing amazing work bringing gardens and garden education into public schools in San Francisco. Currently, they have programming at six schools including June Jordan Small School for Equity, Martin Luther King Middle School, Ida B. Wells Continuation High School, International Studies Academy, Aptos Middle School, and Log Cabin Ranch (a juvenile detention facility).

I met with Audrey Roderick and Abby to discuss possible collaborations between The S. Kitchen and Urban Sprouts. Urban Sprouts was our guestpert for Slowly Growing Green in May 2010 with hosts Jennifer C. and Huckleberry G., so we already had a point of connection between our work. We wanted to find other ways to build upon that connection and increase both scope and depth of our respective work.

The S. Kitchen originally had scheduled a field trip to Urban Sprouts for Sunday, November 7th. We were going to go to their garden at June Jordan and help with weeding and seeding. It was going to be a marvelous day of service, fun, and skill development. Unfortunately, the Bay Area weather decided to turn, and it was gloomy, gray, and incredibly rainy, so we had to take a rain check.

Urban Sprouts is succeeding greatly in their garden-based education services. After six years of service, Abby and her team have transformed the social environment around students encouraging them to play in the dirt, learn about environmentalism and nutrition, and build leadership skills through caring for a garden. They have pulled together how to's related to setting up and running garden-based activities for youth. They have created and researched a usable gardening model able to be applied in any setting. It is rooted in creating behavior change in young people and communities, meaningful participation and leadership of learners, engaging parents at the school to learn more about nutrition and gardening, and creating strong, health, and sustainable partnerships between the community and the school. Together these practices yield amazing. Over the 2008-2009 school year,
  • Urban Sprouts assisted four of their partner schools in expanding their gardens;
  • 716 students participated in Urban Sprouts core garden education programs;
  • 12 youth leaders were developed through Urban Sprouts internship program;
  • Urban Sprouts partnered with The Garden for the Environment to teach a two-week summer gardening class to 26 youth.
These activities led to:
  • 74% of students in their classroom and summer programs stating that their eating habits improved during the program;
  • Students caring more about environmental issues than they did before; 54% of focus group responses indicated that the student cared more about the environment than previously.
  • Students saying that their fruit and vegetable consumption increased; 70% of responses indicated that students eat more fruits and vegetables than previously.
These lessons learned have also led Urban Sprouts to understand their needs better. Currently, Urban Sprouts is trying to do advocacy around food access and security. They are part of local efforts including the School Food Coalition, the Food Security Task Force, and Shape Up. These are wonderful efforts, but they fall short when trying to advocate at a larger scale. Urban Sprouts wants to change the way gardens are viewed. They want schools to see them as a sustainable way to provide both nutritious ingredients for school lunches and an opportunity and mechanism to teach across the curriculum.

Part of getting that advocacy off the ground is reaching parents. Currently, Urban Sprouts strategy has been to work with school's Parent-Teacher Associations. Unfortunately, attendance at PTA meetings at their partner schools is dismal. They need to find another way to connect to parents in the community and bring them back into the school. This is a larger challenge for the organization because given current capacity finding those parents is time and resource intensive, something they don't currently have as they continue to provide excellent services directly to youth.

They are also looking for cooking classes that can bring people together. Their focus is on the garden, not on cooking. They have learned that people love cooking classes, and they always draw larger numbers. They want to increase these classes, so they can continue to grow their audience.

From The S. Kitchen's perspective, we want to support and help grow Urban Sprouts impact and reach within the community because they are providing crucial services to the community that directly impact the success of The S. Kitchen. A more educated population regarding nutrition, garden-to-table systems, and food access will directly result in healthier cuisine, a different conversation, and deeper camaraderie at our potluck dinner parties for a cause. The S. Kitchen needs Urban Sprouts. We are two pieces of a complex puzzle that will change our ecology.

To this aim, The S. Kitchen will be sponsoring The S. Kitchen presents...A Year in Review on Wednesday, December 29th at 6pm (more information including a registration page coming soon.) This event will be the first ever FUNDRAISER from The S. Kitchen. The event, like all The S. Kitchen presents... events, will be free to attend. I will be asking attendees to bring their checkbooks.

A Year in Review will bring back past guestperts, including Urban Sprouts and OutLook Theater Project, in an effort to raise money collaboratively. (Please click here to read a post from me titled Become Wheat: An Open Letter to Non-Profit Executive and Development Directors). It will be an opportunity to practice the philosophy of Become Wheat in a new manner, one that values collaboration over competition.

The S. Kitchen will also be hosting a Field Trip to Urban Sprouts in January 2010. It will be an opportunity to see what Urban Sprouts does and get your hands dirty.

Last, The S. Kitchen will continue these Community Conversations always seeking ways to connect efforts. I know that together we can and we will transform our selves and our communities and our world.

If you would know of resources to help Urban Sprouts meet their needs, please list them in the comments below. All comments will be shared with Abby and Audrey.

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