School gardens are alive and well in Minnesota! With a packed house of over 350 attendees, the 4th annual Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Conference was a success. Teachers, parents, administrators, master gardeners, and other school garden practitioners and supporters came from all over the state for this one-day event hosted by the Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Coalition, University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Program and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
The morning kicked off with a video tour of school gardens around the state, compiled by the Jeffers Foundation. The audience was welcomed with a prayer by Janice Bad Moccasin of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Rose McGee, creator of the “Sweet Potato Comfort Pie Initiative – A Catalyst for Caring and Building Community” lit up the stage with her presence and welcomed the keynote speaker, Betti Wiggins.
Betti Wiggins is a national leader in nutrition and food service management as the Executive Director of the Office of School Nutrition for Detroit Public Schools. She is responsible for school-based meal operations in 143 schools and has prioritized locally grown foods and “clean-label” foods for her students. In 2011, under her leadership, the Detroit School Garden Collaborative (DSGC) was established which currently supports 78 school-based gardens and a 4.5 acre school farm. She spoke about the role that good, healthy food plays in contributing to self-determination for all in her community. She employs youth throughout the summer months to help maintain the school gardens. The school farm is run by students age 18-26 who have developmental disabilities and receive valuable job training skills at the farm. She advocates for a healthy food system, bringing about change at a systems level so that not only the students are eating the healthy food, but that education, investment and commitment reaches to the food service staff, teachers, families, and wider Detroit community as well.
After a delicious local lunch (including a slice of Rose McGee’s Sweet Potato Pie!), attendees got to choose from a wide range of sessions including DIY Hydroponics, Garden to Cafeteria, Farm to Childcare, a Principal’s Roundtable, Square Foot Gardening, Growing Small Fruits, Pollinators and Beekeeping, STEM in the Garden, and Winter Gardening in MN Classrooms. If you weren’t able to attend, many of the resources shared in these sessions are available on the Schoolyard Garden Conference webpage. Be sure to check it out!
Inspiration and excitement was in the air with all of the ideas and connections being made. The momentum will continue as schools plan for Minnesota Schoolyard Planting Week which was announced at the conference. Governor Dayton has proclaimed May 23-27th, 2016 Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Planting Week. Be sure to learn more and add your school to the list at mngreenschools.org.
Stay tuned for information about next year’s Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Conference – save the date for March 2-3, 2017! Stay connected to the Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Coalition all year through Facebook!