McAuliffe Elementary: An Idyllic Garden

This is a story about our one of our Learning Gardens–a story about why collard greens aren’t welcome in quesadillas, but chickens and bees and moms and dads are welcome in learning gardens.

We have had a learning garden at McAuliffe Elementary School for a few years, and the entire school – all 760 students, every teacher and the principal – are involved. The art teacher and students create mobiles to keep squirrels away. The lunchroom team helps students compost. The 8th-grade teachers and students built a farm stand to sell the produce they grow. A parent volunteer helps keep the chickens in line. The chickens help stock the farm stand with their eggs. Everybody’s on board!

Now, this sounds idyllic, right? A learning garden that everyone can support!

Well, it is idyllic, and here’s why: This Learning Garden is in Hermosa, a predominantly blue-collar, Latino community with a median household income that’s below the city’s average. The school sits along the border of Humboldt Park, an area that has a serious gang problem. Even so, the garden flourishes. It is untagged by gang graffiti. Its chicken house is unbothered. The farm stand, which runs on an honor system, hasn’t been raided for its produce or its bucket holding the money left by shoppers.

This is the power of a well-loved Learning Garden. What began as containers filled with soil has become a vibrant space filled with seeds, produce, students, parents, chickens, chicken poop, bees and a load of respect.

It’s also filled with tomatillos, jalapenos, cilantro and other food that goes great in quesadillas. But not collard greens, which we grow in most of our gardens. At McAuliffe, students were quick to tell us that collards do NOT taste good in quesadillas. That was great to know, because we can easily customize our gardens for their communities.

At Big Green, we work hard for stories like this. This is our mission – to partner with schools, to complement curricula, to become an integral part of how they connect with students, parents and the larger community, and to encourage healthier eating.

We need your support to create more stories like this. McAuliffe is not the only school in a tough neighborhood that can benefit from a garden. There are many more. We hope you’ll come along with us and join our mission.