On a sunny weekend in late September, the St. Peter Claver Community Garden in Louisville, Kentucky, got a special visitor. Alice Waters, renowned chef and founder of the Edible Schoolyard and school garden movement in California, was in town for a healthy food and local farms conference, a recording for National Public Radio (NPR), and the dedication of an educational pavilion in a successful community garden fashioned after her own work. The St. Peter Claver Community Garden is a keystone project of ACTIVE Louisville’s Healthy Eating by Design partnership.
Waters was an especially appropriate guest for the dedication, as the school-based garden was wholly inspired by her Edible Schoolyard work in Berkeley, California. Jennifer Clark, Project Director of the ACTIVE Louisville partnership, said that Water’s work had a profound influence on their decision to partner with a local school. “When the garden was first built,” Clark said, “we couldn’t get people behind it. But then we got the school involved and participation has increased among kids and other partners.” The program, adapted for urban Kentucky youth and families, has grown in participants and use since it was first opened in May 2006.
The newly-dedicated pavilion will be used as an outdoor educational space for the children at Meyzeek Middle School and the surrounding community. Though the garden successfully served between 500 and 700 children last year, it did take some convincing to get these city youth excited about it. “The kids would get out there and say, ‘Ew, bugs!’ and ‘I don’t want to get dirty!’ ” Clark recalls, “but once they get out there and get in to it, they always want to know when they can come back.”
The garden is adjacent to the middle school, as well as a busy community center and a large public housing development. Its location in urban Louisville has attracted a number of other partners. Demonstration plots are managed by the cooperative extension and a local herbalist. The Presbyterian Community Center and the Bates Memorial Baptist Church also have plots where they plant often. Additionally, a garden club started by a science teacher at the middle school has successfully attracted other teachers and their students to the outdoor classroom. Language arts students spend afternoons writing in the garden, and students painted the garden’s gate for art assignments.
The special weekend with Alice Waters set the stage for successful semesters of student and community gardening and education. The diverse student body at Meyzeek Middle School, once unlikely candidates for a school-based garden, are learning how to grow, harvest, and prepare nutritious seasonal produce. Located in a neighborhood of mostly concrete and little green space, this one-acre garden has fulfilled what Clark calls the children’s “hunger for an outdoor experience.”