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!