Planting a seed: South Atlanta High hopes a community garden will lead to better food choices

(Editor’s note: This fascinating article about a collaborative community garden involving South Atlanta Educational Complex is reprinted with permission from the Greening Youth Foundation:

School lunches — especially the bad ones — are the stuff of legend. Kids refuse them. Rally and agitate against them. Many a student council president has won the position after making promises to get rid of the cardboard pizza and the mystery meat platters. At South Atlanta High School, questionable school lunches have inspired a particular set of students to take their food — quite literally — into their own hands.

With encouragement and resources from their school administration and peer leaders, the SAHS Greening Youth Eco-Force is making plans to break ground on a school-run community garden they hope will inspire fellow students to eat healthier and smarter.

“We’re talking about tomatoes, green peas, squash, collards, the works,” said Kara Holloway, a Green Corps volunteer helping the SAHS Eco-Force plan the garden. “The students are passionate about it because they want something different for their school — something that would be the first of its kind in our area and something to be proud of. They would get to say they created it.”

The community garden would be the debut project for SAHS, which became a Greening Youth school this year. SAHS sought out the services of Greening Youth Foundation to help it in its efforts to create community service projects for its students.

Like its counterparts in schools like Gwinnett County’s Brookwood and Craig elementary schools, SAHS is implementing a schoolwide recycling program and participating in Greening Youth’s groundbreaking Green Speakers series, which brings ecoentrepreneurs and celebrities into the schools to extol the virtues of “green” jobs. The students also will be treated to hikes and camping trips to local, state, and national parks, and recruited to help with service projects.

It was the students’ idea, though, to start their own community garden — a project that falls in line with the hobbies of a vast number of the Eco-Force members, who, Holloway said, garden at home. They’ve already secured the land — a sweet spot overlooking the practice football field — and they’re in the process of fundraising for garden tools, seedlings and other supplies they need to bring the garden to fruition. The first big fundraiser will be a dance-off competition; six groups will compete against each other before an upcoming basketball game, and the winning group will get to perform the winning dance during the game’s halftime. Students will be charged about $3 and staff about $5 to watch the competition, with all proceeds going toward the new garden, Holloway said.

“A lot of people are excited about the competition, and they’re especially excited about the garden,” Holloway said. “Even students who aren’t in the club want the garden — it gives them a sense of pride to think that their school could contribute to the community in that kind of way.”

Greening Youth Foundation founder and Executive Director Angelou Ezeilo said the group’s excitement is proof that simply exposing kids in urban areas to the wonders of the environment is inspiration enough for them to become stewards of their environment.

“Students like those at South Atlanta are typically not a part of these movements, but when they get that exposure and opportunity to learn and care about their environment, the sky is the limit,” Ezeilo said. “They are just as interested and concerned about the environment, sustainability and the planet as the most enthusiastic environmentalists, and they want to know what they can do to help.”

Of course, the jury is still out on whether SAHS’s outdoor garden will change the lunch menu; there’s no word yet on whether food raised in the student garden will find its way to the school’s kitchen. But Holloway said Eco-Force members are hoping that the garden will not only inspire students to make better choices about their eating habits, but inspire the community to do the same.

“There’s nothing like it around here,” she said. “We would be the first, and the students think that’s kinda cool.”

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