The following reflection was written by Rhiannon Dalrymple, Spark-Y Program Director, on the Roosevelt Urban Farm (RUF Squad) High School Program.
Looking back at the 2016-17 school year, I am so proud of what our small and feisty team has achieved. Across our 13 partner schools we have served more than 1,400 students in 18 custom-designed daily, weekly, and monthly programs throughout the year.. Nine other schools had one-off experiences with our team, either through educational tours of the Urban Ag Lab, at STEM days, or through build-and-workshop events. We installed what is probably the nation’s biggest classroom aquaponics systems at Edison high school, we piloted novel core and elective program offerings, and saw January 13th deemed Spark-Y & Northeast Middle School Sustainability Day in the city of Minneapolis by Mayor Betsy Hodges. It was a wild ride.
At this time of year we take stock of the adventure that was the past 9 months, and we quantify the impact of our work. Right now we are crunching through the data, analyzing responses to surveys and assessing our measurable success. But more than that, we are taking time during the quiet between the school year and the internship program to reflect on our personal experiences, our interactions with our youth, the challenges we faced and - of course - the fun that we have had. So much of the impact of our programming is seen in the slow and subtle changes that accumulate in our students through the year, those almost intangible shifts in attitude and behavior day-to-day which are hard to nail down and record. This year I had the joy of delivering the Roosevelt Urban Farm (RUF) program at Roosevelt High School. I don’t have to scrutinize the data we have from those kids to know it was a success for them. I watched them grow, and I felt them shift.
Roosevelt Urban Farm Squad
This year the RUF squad grew and harvested an abundance of organic produce, 60lbs of which they sold directly to the cafeteria (other unmeasured amounts were prepared in the class to fuel the hungry farm squad or taken home to their families to share the bounty). Roosevelt is a Minneapolis Public School garden-to-cafeteria success story. RUF students engage directly with cafeteria leaders and cooks, meeting about what should be grown, touring where the produce is prepared into the school lunches, and hand-delivering safely-harvested produce for weighing and preparation. The students earn between $1 and $2 a pound for their produce - which is below market price for locally grown and organic vegetables - but the experience of seeing their friends eat the food they harvested the day before is a powerful one. Excellent bragging rights! When their first check came through we had a financial meeting as a group to decide how best to use that hard-earned $58. Options included having a pizza party (initially a popular choice), investing in new seeds, setting up an experiment with crayfish in the sump tank of the aquaponics system, or buying a new school of tilapia fish. They voted on reinvesting their earnings into the farm, and we bought a school of fish that they themselves would never see grow enough to sell or to eat.
Indoor Aquaponics System
As the school year ended it was clear to me how far they had really come. For a class project in the fall, a few of the kids designed and led a school-wide recycling initiative in which students earned service learning credit for collecting and sorting recyclable waste from all classrooms. It continued weekly right up until the very last day of school, independent of my involvement. By the end of our year together it became clear how much they handled on their own - added water to the aquaponics system, fed the fish, pollinated the greenhouse crops, seeded, weeded and watered the garden themselves. Now that I’m taking care of it all myself until the internship begins, I can see how little I was actually doing by the end
….Well, I’m not doing it all myself - a RUF Squad fairy has been dropping by the farm during their summer holidays to water the greenhouse at nights! (I’m not sure which of you it is, but thank you!!)
The end of a school year can be such a bittersweet time. We are welcoming summer harvests, are looking excitedly to the next school year, and are in the final throws of preparing our jam-packed internship program. However, we are also celebrating and wrapping up programs which we have been living, breathing, and loving for the better part of a year, and are saying goodbye to many hundreds of fantastic youth. Me, I’m sad to say goodbye to a small group I have come to know, love and respect. Or, at least, goodbye for now… we know that we will see a number of these powerful young people in our internship, programs and job openings in the future!
For more information about Roosevelt High School visit their website, here.