Tuesday, November 20, 2012

From Seed to Table with Dillard University Community Development Corporation

As the bus full of 4th and 5th grade Langston Hughes scholars drove up Gentilly Boulevard, a group of white stone buildings came into view, bordered by manicured lawns and mature live oaks.  The bus approached a traffic light, swung a left and entered the campus of Dillard University.

For some of our scholars, this visit was the first time they had stepped foot on a college campus.  All of them were impressed by the architecture, the landscaping, and finally, the reason why they were here: Dillard's state-of-the-art greenhouse.

Last spring, Louisiana Blue Cross Blue Shield awarded a generous Impact Grant to fund a partnership between the Dreamkeeper Garden and the Dillard University Community Development Corporation.  The goals of the partnership are to provide hands-on experience growing food from seed-to-table, expand the size and capacity of the Dreamkeeper Garden, develop a mentoring program between Dillard and LHA students, and increase food access and awareness to the Gentilly neighborhood.  This initial class visit was the first step in that direction.

As LHA scholars entered the greenhouse for the first time, they met to their "Botany Buddies" - Dillard botany students who would act as mentors, teachers, and partners.  After some get-to-know-you time, scholars and Botany Buddies worked together to propagate some seeds that would germinate and grow in the greenhouse, in preparation for their final destination in the Dreamkeeper Garden.

Over the next few weeks, scholars and Botany Buddies shared what they had learned about seeds, photosynthesis, and different ways to grow plants.  Together, they've been maintaining the greenhouse and taking care of their seedlings, watching patiently as the growth process unfolds.

Many of our scholars share the dream of attending college, and some would be the first person in their families to enroll.  Spending time with their Botany Buddies on a college campus has provided them with role models who've held similar dreams and made them into reality.  Scholars at LHA hear the message over and over again, and with our Dillard partnership they see it firsthand: with effort and dedication, dreams of attending college can come true.

After weeks of care we saw our seedlings mature into outdoor-ready plants.  On a chilly Thursday morning the Botany Buddies arrived at LHA to transplant cabbage, kale, broccoli, and other fall vegetables into the production rows.

These plantings marked a special moment in the history of the Dreamkeeper garden.  Our dream of a full seed-to-table educational experience came one step closer to reality, as did our dream of expanding access to fresh, healthy food for LHA families and the Gentilly community.  In a few months these vegetables will go directly to families as part of our Family Supported Agriculture (FSA) initiative, a program in which LHA families help grow and maintain the garden in exchange for a box of fresh, organic produce.

Every new idea beings like a seed: small but with great potential.  In the coming months and years, we're hoping to foster a shift in the community that brings people together, broadens access to good food, and supports people in living healthier lifestyles.  With nurturing, persistence, and the support of our partners, we'll help that seed grow.

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