It’s officially gardening season, and all around the city, Chicagoans are out tending to their plants.  We all know the benefits of gardening: getting outside, engaging in moderate physical exercise, and, of course, growing your own veggies.  Through the student-focused organization Gardeeners, students are getting to join in on the gardening fun. Founded in 2014 by two Teach For America alumni, Adam Zmick and May Tsupros, Gardeneers is an organization that exists “to give Chicago students in food desert communities equal access to healthy food and food education.”  Working with students from Pre-K all the way to 12th grade, Gardeneers is impacting student lives around the city, one school garden at a time.

Amanda Fieldman, Director of Development at Gardeneers, said they work with 25 schools – 19 elementary and 6 high schools – meaning there are an impressive 2,300 students working in the gardens each week. The K-8 program is centered around experiential and sensory learning, while the high school experience, with the partnership of After School Matters, has more of an entrepreneurial focus, Fieldman said.  Take

Chicago’s neighborhood Englewood, for instance, where high schoolers from Team Englewood and Urban Prep Academy have transformed vacant lots into an urban food and flower farm and are selling the flowers they grow to Flower for Dreams.  They have business plans, crop plans, and ultimately, they are selling what they grow to their communities and beyond.  Not only is this an awesome learning experience for them, they also receive a stipend for their participation in the program.

The goal of Gardeneers is quite simple: to provide knowledge around healthy eating, nature, and STEM education. Fieldman said they are hoping to shape students’ preferences, and “through the exposure and excitement of growing your own vegetables, preferences towards healthy foods do increase through our program.”  Such an involved program requires a lot of people to make it run smoothly. The Gardeneers team of Garden Educators is “what makes all of this work possible,” Fieldman said.  They also try to get local communities involved by having community days once a month, inviting parents, teachers, and neighbors in for some volunteering.

Of course, like any nonprofit organization, they rely heavily on fundraising.  For one student to have the Gardeneers experience for a year, it costs $300.  Their biggest fundraiser is their annual gala. This year is Gardeneers 3rd Annual Growing Healthy Futures Gala, which will take place on September 6, honoring former Mayor Richard M. Daley.  The gala is open to the public, and tickets go on sale in June.

While food deserts might limit healthy choices for some communities, these gardens might be the solution. School gardens provide healthy food options, knowledge about those options, and the empowerment for young individuals to take charge of their own health.

CALL TO ACTION

  • Get fancy for charity: Attend this year’s Growing Healthy Futures Gala on September 6 at the Bridgeport Arts Center.
  • Become a volunteer: There are so many ways you can donate your time, skills, or resources.  Check out their volunteer page for more information.
  • Support school gardens here. Every dollar is impactful!