Thanks to the whole national push for healthier eating and thinner kids, politicians and regular people are rallying support for school gardens. Here's what's happening in my neck of the woods.
In Montgomery County, MD: Food Deemed too Dangerous
Hard as it is to believe, my county school board's initiative encouraging school gardens prohibits the growing of edibles on school grounds – period. And that's just one of the many rules that must be followed, including having to choose from four approved templates for school gardens – all of them habitat gardens. (The rules were written with the help of the Audubon Society and the county's Master Gardeners.)
Those rules don't actually SAY you can't grow edibles but they don't say you can, and when schools ask for permission to grow food they're told no – because food violates the school's Safety Handbook! Says their safety director, "Fruits
and vegetables are a natural food source for pests, including rodents,
and we are restricted from using any type of pesticide to keep rodents
away until we’ve removed all food sources, so there’s a problem with
putting food sources on school grounds.” He mentioned rabbits,
snakes, groundhogs, mice and rats as rodents that might show up in
gardens and went on to cite
student allergies to the fruits and vegetables as a potential problem.
In meetings, other school board staff have also mentioned insect stings and toxins in the soil as still more things we should be afraid of.
Gordon Clark, head of Montgomery Victory Gardens, a group pressing for more veg-growing in schools and elsewhere, has attended the meetings and tells me that one politician actually asked "What if some well-meaning
neighbor comes and sprays pesticides on the school garden when we're not
there?" Seriously? Are they just making up problems? The Victory Garden folks have also discovered stealth gardens on school grounds – constructed and maintained in secret so as not to be shut down by the school board. This is nuts.
In DC: More School Gardens, Healthier Foods in the Cafeteria
The “Healthy Schools” legislation before DC's City
Council creates a school garden program, eliminates sodas and sugary drinks from schools, mandates free breakfast for all
public school students, and contributes an additional 5 cents for
school meals containing local, sustainably raised fruits and
vegetables. (Currently, the federal subsidy for DC's elementary school
kids is $2.68 per meal.) The bill would also eliminate
trans-fats, introduce nutritional standards for school meals, and set minimum levels of
required exercise for grades K through 8. Oh, and create a pilot
composting program for school food waste.
Unfortunately, snack and junk foods would still be allowed in schools, only in "managed portion sizes" (whatever!).
According to one Council member, 21 states have
farm-to-school policies for incorporating
locally grown produce in school meals, but not D.C., where the CDC
tells us that 18 percent of high school students are obese and 35
percent are overweight.
Ed Bruske has been beating the drum for these changes and is my source for all school-food-and-garden news. Ed, can you tell us more about the school garden component of the bill?
What's Going on Near You?
Are your local officeholders helping or hurting the healthier-eating campaign going on across the country? Your experiences could help overturn the boneheaded anti-edibles policy in my county or stir folks everywhere to ask for more gardens and better food.