Guest blog by Edible Schoolyard New Orleans

As the Mardi Gras glitter fades here in New Orleans, we begin to anticipate a bright and floral spring. Zone 9b temperatures are generally good to us and our crops here, minus one hard freeze we sustained in early January, which took out our tropicals—bananas, papayas and some others. Broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, arugula, lettuce, snap peas, collard and mustard greens, citrus, and winter flowers continue to thrive. Zone 9b is funny in this way—it is conducive to year-round production yet still is overcome with a gray and slow sense of winter.

Many of our teachers and students walked or marched in Mardi Gras parades this month. It is always a festive and blissfully exhausting season with different degrees of revelry on the calendar every weekend from Three Kings Day all the way until Fat Tuesday—a month or more.

Early spring means the production of many of our community’s favorite crops such as greens, broccoli and cabbage, and a soon-to-be flower explosion!

Before our schools closed for the week of Mardi Gras, our teachers engaged in a teacher wellness training with the Coalition for Compassionate Schools here in New Orleans. Trauma significantly affects 60% of New Orleans youth with symptoms of PTSD—a rate that is four times the national average (Orleans Parish School Board, 2019).  After learning how repeated exposure to trauma can affect student learning, as well as social/emotional learning practices we can use to nurture self-awareness and relationship building in our classrooms earlier this fall, the focus turned back to teachers and practices they can use to sustain themselves during trying and low-energy moments of teaching. These practices include “power thoughts” for self-compassion such as “I love this unique and special job, and it has unique and special challenges”.

All of our garden and kitchen teachers are full-time staff members at one of four open admissions public charter schools in New Orleans, operated by FirstLine Schools. Fully embedded into the enrichment program at these schools, Edible Schoolyard is a signature program of FirstLine, offering garden and kitchen classes to a span of grade levels, multiple days per week, in tandem with other enrichment classes like PE, music, art and dance. Within this framework, our teachers plan, shop, prep for, and teach five 45-60 minute classes per day on average (as well as care for their garden and kitchen spaces!), for students who range from kindergarten to 8th grade. All of this work is supported by two garden staff who help to maintain the spaces, coordinate volunteers, and supply seedlings from our greenhouse.

Our Program Manager, Zach O’Donnell, and garden team grow most of our seedlings in our greenhouse.

Upon interviewing some of our students to celebrate their learning at our annual fundraiser, “An Edible Evening”, they referenced making connections to food and the natural world, as well as the social/emotional and academic components that come with culinary and horticultural education. One student said, “In science class we have been talking about plants and how they can die and how they look the same in the life cycle and we compared them to their parents. I knew all the answers because we had just gone to garden class, too”—referencing our unit on the plant life cycle. Others expressed feeling safe and included in garden and kitchen classes: “Garden makes me feel calm and relieved. Let the stress grow into another plant.” Most expressed a respect for life and the value of the food provided by our gardens and local farms and all of the creatures associated: “The bees bring me joy, because they pollinate the plants so the plants can make food.” Check out more student stories on our website.

This 3rd grader said  “In Science class we have been talking about plants and how they can die and how they look the same in the life cycle and we compared them to their parents. I knew all the answers because we had just gone to garden class, too.”

As we continue to hone our craft and share our work with others, we look forward to connecting with anyone who will be at the Growing School Gardens Summit in San Diego next month. We were lucky enough to connect with NFSN’s Racial Equity Learning Lab and show them one of our schools this past Fall. There is so much to learn and share as we continue on through the cycles of nature, as they remain our steady rhythm and at the same time become more unexpected. Follow and reach out to us at @esynola!

For tickets to An Edible Evening, visit our event website. Join us  for a truly unique garden party under the stars featuring local restaurants and bars, music, and student work!  Your support will enable us to continue to offer high quality food and nutrition education to 2,800 New Orleans children.