An important component of FoodPrints programming are the parent volunteers who help students garden and cook, and learn alongside students. But when parents aren’t able to attend, or when FoodPrints teachers need extra assistance, we’ve been fortunate to have community members volunteer to keep our gardens thriving and classrooms running smoothly. 

Below we share a few stories of our much appreciated community volunteers.

Elaine Swiedler, FoodPrints garden volunteer at School Without Walls at Francis Stevens

Elaine Swiedler volunteered each weekend over the summer and during the warm fall weekends of 2016 to keep the garden at Francis Stevens watered, weeded, and tended while students and FoodPrints staff were not in school. Volunteers like her are so valuable for us to be able to keep our FoodPrints school gardens vibrant and growing year round!

Last summer and this fall, I was a caretaker of the vegetable garden at Francis Stevens, keeping things growing when the students couldn’t be there to do it themselves. It was rewarding to see the progress of the plants from week to week, to build new raised beds, and to know that I was helping, albeit indirectly, kids learn about cooking, gardening, and personal and environmental health!
Elaine Swiedler, second from right, helped maintain the garden at Francis Stevens when students were away
The most rewarding part of this experience was interacting with members of the community who stopped to chat during my watering shifts at the garden.

Once, an elderly man who stopped to admire the garden said it was the highlight of his walk each day. Other days, passersby stopped to ask what a certain plant was or to share stories about their gardens or compare what they were growing with what was in front of the school. Even workers from a construction crew across the street stopped to chat. One wanted to know if we were growing mustard greens; another wanted to know if I had any tips for combatting the powdery mildew that was killing the pumpkin plant in his front yard. (Alas, I was unable to help much since he'd already heard about the only remedy that I knew of, which is spraying leaves with a diluted milk solution.)

Many people walked by without saying anything, but for those who did stop, it was only been positive. Caring for the garden and talking to people as they pass by made me feel more connected to my community, and reminded me that there are all types of gardeners and garden appreciators. We're not only educating the kids but learning from each other.

Jean Whaley, FoodPrints volunteer at School Within School

Jean Whaley is a regular volunteer with Toigo Farms at FRESHFARM Markets in Dupont Circle. She’s up early most Sundays to help the farmers put out and sell their produce. She can also be found at the Penn Quarter Market on Thursday afternoons, especially during peach season!

This fall, Jean also began volunteering regularly in the FoodPrints program SWS, where students spend a half-day in their FoodPrints sessions. In addition to gardening and academic content through lessons, writing and drawing, students prepare several recipes and eat lunch together. On a January day with the first graders at SWS, Jean helped prep the ingredients for Bean & Vegetable Chili and Wheat Berry Salad. She worked with the students to make the chili and stir it as it cooked on the stove.
Jean is dedicated to volunteering. She worked as the head of Americorps VISTA managing the national volunteer service program. Two of the other volunteers in the recent first grade FoodPrints class were VISTA volunteers in their younger years, which was an interesting connection to make with Jean over cooking and gardening!
One of the keys to eating nutritious, fresh recipes is being aware of what produce grows best in which season.

When many of us can get produce from all over the world at any time of year -- and others have limited exposure to fresh produce -- it often takes a school garden, hands-on experiences with planting and harvesting, and experiences with preparing and eating in-season foods for children to understand and appreciate seasonal produce.

Knowledge and appreciation for seasonality is a core outcome of FoodPrints, underlined by the DC Environmental Literacy Framework, Common Core Standards, and the Next Generation Science Standards -- all which expect students to recognize patterns, such as the cycle of the seasons.

Patterns is one of the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: "Patterns exist everywhere - in regularly occurring shapes or structures and in repeating events and relationships. For example, patterns are discernible in the symmetry of flowers and snowflakes, the cycling of the seasons, and the repeated base pairs of DNA."

In FoodPrints classes, students are introduced to seasonally appropriate foods each month. They grow these same foods in their school gardens, and use them in investigations and lessons aligned to the curriculum and standards.

For example, in October, students may study, cook, and eat broccoli and sweet potatoes. In May, they harvest radishes and carrots. The experience of seeing produce grow in their gardens reinforces seasonality: they understand why fragile strawberries and tomatoes don’t grow in the winter but hardier plants like kale and collards are able to survive the cold. 

Students in younger grades understand how plants change over time, how the garden changes over time and why. FoodPrints teachers encourage students to observe and describe -- both by drawing and writing -- what plants and animals need to survive.

As part of this lesson, 1st graders at School Within School drew their favorite fruit or vegetable in each season:
Older students create seasonality charts using pictures and planting/harvesting information from seed catalogs. They divide a poster board up into four sections, one for each season, and then fill them with food that is harvested in each season. They draw from their harvesting experiences in their school gardens to help guide their thinking. This project always generates important discussion about why strawberries can’t grow in our school gardens in Washington, DC in the winter, but there are plenty of strawberries in our grocery stores year round.
This fall, third graders at Tyler Elementary determined which ingredients in the recipes they were preparing were in season locally. They discussed FoodPrints class talked about the importance of buying local. Students said:
  • “We support local farmers when we shop at farmers markets." 
  • "Buying local cuts back on cost/fuel from trucks driving across the country.” 
  • "There’s less chemicals and pesticides used if the produce doesn't have to travel as far."
  • "Produce tastes fresher!"