Growing Beyond the Pandemic
I’ll be honest, we wanted to start building school gardens this time last year. But alas, a pandemic struck and our plans were turned upside down. But, our moment has finally arrived! Plans have been drawn and materials are beginning to pile up, and soon, two schools in New Brunswick will be adorned with brand new gardens for their students to learn from and grow in.
The time it took to get here was more than we had hoped, but our priorities and overall direction have also had the opportunity to evolve with the times. When we first dreamed of school gardens, we only had agricultural experience and some Share Tables to build off of. A great start, for sure, but now, our approach to school food systems and the place Elijahs’ Promise can play in improving them has evolved with the times. We have come to recognize that, much like ourselves, the New Brunswick Public Schools are indeed an emergency food provider. That without their free meals, even in precedented times, many students would incur food insecurity or increased severity. So as fellow emergency food providers, we want to be in better and more robust partnership.
Before the pandemic, we were experimenting at our Community Soup Kitchen with family feeding hours. We recognized that there was a significant need among families with children for free and accessible food. Yet, because of a number of reasons, including geographical restrictions, information gaps, and stigma, we did not find a lot of success in those kid-oriented efforts. Now though, with the knowledge of our limitations and the perspective the pandemic has provided, we are excited to take a new approach to child and family food security. We want to be better and more robust partners with our local schools so that we can use our institutional knowledge and expertise and marry it with the schools’ scaled feeding capacity.
Essentially, we want to partner with the schools to help ensure that every student in the city is accessing free, hot, healthful, culturally appropriate meals. Enter our new approach to school gardens. There is no universe in which school gardens will grow enough food to supply the cafeteria at the scale required to feed every student. But much like it is not Elijah’s Promise’s job to feed every individual by our lonesome, neither is it a school garden’s. In our new approach, the garden, in partnership with FoodCorps and other community partners, is a space that will help be the bedrock for developing Healthy Food Relationships among students, and through them, the community at large.
In this approach, we emphasize a dynamic between students and the food they eat where nutritional density and diversity is as valued as the social, psychological, and cultural aspects of food cultivation, preparation, and consumption; respect and care is given to the people, land, and physical places that grow, sell, buy, transport, prepare, and consume the food; and an understanding that the physical and mental health benefits of eating healthful foods are both unique to each individual and communal.
We hope that through this robust approach, our new school gardens will not only nourish our students’ bodies but their entire relationships with food while helping serve as a platform for our local schools to continue providing free, healthful, hot, and culturally appropriate meals to every student in the district.
About the Grantee
Elijah’s Promise harnesses the power of food to break the cycle of poverty, alleviate hunger, and change lives.