When I arrived in Waterville, Maine to start my service term with FoodCorps, I realized quickly that this would be a lonely new world if I did not dive right in. So that’s what I did! Never before had I made so many friends in such a short amount of time, but within the first month I had new roommates, amazing coworkers, and an entire new community to explore and grow with. When I think back on what made this all work, it was not the brilliant ideas, the silly songs, the hilarious games and the thousands of trials and errors, it was the relationships. You see, I set out to transforms kids’ relationships to their food, and in the end, I too was transformed more than I could have guessed.
The Albert S. Hall School where I served for the last two years was already doing so much good work in creating a schoolwide culture of health before I showed up. They had a small garden going and had formed community partnerships to bring in local healthy food for taste tests once a month, knowing that even these small steps were important in improving their students connection to food. All of this was done in one teacher’s “spare” time and they knew they needed a hand if they wanted to transform the whole school food environment, so that’s where I came in.
For the last two years we have worked hard together to transform the school food environment, from the classroom to the cafeteria. During that time we brought gardening into every classroom with seven classrooms growing their own veggies under grow lights, rotating cooking lessons during the year that would tour the school with themes on Maine staple crops like blueberries and potatoes. We spent three months this year focusing on whole grains, eating them every which way and learning every little detail we could down to the scientific level to get the full picture of why they are important for our healthy development.
On top of all this, the garden club, called “Sprout Scouts,” has become the most popular after school club with roughly one-third of our student population participating. All told there are thirteen classrooms in our school and I am happy to say that they are all actively invested in improving our students futures via growing, studying, eating, and playing with healthy food. After just two years, the atmosphere has shifted for the entire school and anyone you ask will tell you FoodCorps has helped launch them into a whole new way of thinking about our food.
For my final big project at the Albert S. Hall School we set out to make the school garden into a beautiful space that the whole community could appreciate. It took months of planning and collaborating with many community members, but in the end it was more than worth all the effort. What started out as a few raised beds on asphalt and a lot of big dreams has now become a community space that attracts bees, butterflies, families, and passersby to stay a while and slow down to appreciate what’s around them. It was a team effort, with over fifty volunteers who helped make the transformation complete, and at the end of the all the work days it was more amazing than we had ever imagined. Now our humble garden says to our community what we inside the school have come to believe: that food is beautiful and vitally central to our kids growing up healthy, happy, and ready to change the world.
In the beginning I arrived to help Waterville transform, and in the end it adopted me as one of its own. I thought I was coming to act as a fork in the road where students would turn down the new path of healthy food relationships and a more vibrant future. Instead I now find myself staying in Waterville and walking down that same path with them, bringing all my best resources to throw in with theirs, knowing that we are in this together.