Agricultural Education IS Life Education

      Posted On: July 19, 2012

A guest post by students Chynna Dan, Lorna Chandler, Breanna Regusters, Naeem Coleman, Garey Jordan, and Patience Nkrumah, compiled by Scott Britton, Eastern University Academy Charter School

One of the many things that people of the country say about us “city kids”, is we are ignorant of health and do not care about the food we

Eastern University Academy Charter School students prepare a school garden in Philadelphia

eat. They believe all we care about is keeping up with the latest trends in clothing, technology, and pop culture. And, as a kid of the city, I can say it is somewhat true…but what the people of the country do not know is the problem is really about generations of lack of access. For people in the city it is much harder to get to the freshest foods available because they are simply not available.

So begins our dialogue with Chynna Dan and other urban students choosing to engage in Philadelphia’s Eastern University Academy Charter School’s agricultural elective course dubbed  “Urban Fresh.”  This story, we are learning as a community, is wrapped up in a history of racial, socio-economic, and locational injustice and has sprouted forth movements focusing on food sovereignty and food justice.  Looking at the words of my students has convinced me of the utility of agricultural education as a tool for personal, familial, communal, and social change.  Lorna Chandler captures this justice sentiment with her declaration of food independence reflecting that

I learned that there are many different types of vegetables to eat and that we the kids have a right to have better foods given to us.

But history declares indignantly that rights don’t always result in equality and that justice sometimes, or perhaps often, only comes with civic action.  Breanna Reguster’s, The Powerful Change, explains how the building of a garden has shown her the power of this type of work to build families and communities.  In doing so she portrays the garden as an unconventional, yet potent tool for development at many levels, while alluding to the subtle ways this type of civic action is building agency in youth.

After starting the Urban Fresh elective I went home to persuade my family to start a family garden. My exact words was, “it’s not just

Green harvest at Eastern University Academy Charter School

healthy but it will be fun and it will not cost a lot, it will actually be cheaper than going to the store.” That’s another factor, many families are having a hard time financially. It is better for families to put their money in a project that benefits them financially and spiritually, with their children, instead of putting all their money in a store for food that is not really fresh.

Though much of this advocacy may never leave the home, Naeem Coleman and Garey Jordan, respectively, share the bigger picture with us capturing the spirit of urban agriculture as a force of renewal in the relationship between humanity, health, and the natural world.

We decided that we would have the entire school start to make a garden outside the school because our teacher thought it would bring us together.  And just like he predicted, it did.  Last year we also gave a family a beautiful backyard garden with all types of plants that were edible as well as beautiful.  This elective will continue to change people’s lives as they become part of it.  The first year the garden was built it was like we all got to see the beauty of life here on Earth.

Community Agriculture will bring a community together to talk about things and will move people closer to each other and created things.  Agriculture is playing a big role in my community now because they are having Farmer’s Markets all over the city and when I become older and more familiar with agriculture I will like to start a movement that will promote organic agriculture.

For a teacher it is unbelievably rewarding and confirming to see theory sprouting reality.  The words of the youth are so important because they capture, in time, the power of project, community, and environmental based work, while also providing a future perspective, allowing us a glimpse into who the future leaders will be and how they will be developed as such.  Eleventh grader Patience Nkrumah has taken on the school Farmers Market as her “passion project.”  Her resolve is wonderfully crisp as she has spearheaded the first ever Eastern University Academy Farmers Market, deciding not to wait for future lessons that she can learn now.  Partnering an internship with Henry Got Crops! a Weaver’s Way Food Co-op CSA and production farm, with the Urban Fresh elective, and her Farmer’s Market project she will graduate with work experiences far beyond those of a typical high school graduate…

it was up to me to make a choice.  Naturally, I did what I had to do; grab ahold of it.

The long wait had ended, but then I was nervous, and scared.  What is our first market going to be like?  What if the teachers do not buy?  What if they buy but do not appreciate it or feel like buying more?  What will we do if all our produce does not sell and then starts going bad?  These and many other questions ran through my mind as we were getting ready for our first market.  I felt as if I wasn’t ready yet for all the hard work and the commitment my partner and I would have to put into it since we had overwhelming school work to deal with.  With the ideas we got on how to set attractive displays and safely handle produce from the farmers market workshop we attended held by Chester County Economic Development Council, we were indeed ready to sell.

It was just an amazing feeling when our first dollar bill came from my teacher who told us he would be there to get some greens.

It hasn’t been easy though, Sometimes we get a poor market, sometimes we have little help and some of our produce has already started going bad so we have to compost them.  Sometimes I personally will be very tired and want to go home, but I have to stay to clean up before I leave.  Sometimes I have a hard time getting volunteers to stick to what they are assigned instead of loitering around and chatting without working.  The going gets tough every single time, but one thing I know for sure is that we have, and will keep going on.

Just as agriculture aims to respect and nurture life,  so too has agricultural education proven to enrich and empower lives and communities.  It’s no wonder that education so intimately connected to wellness elicits health in its participants.  For us, as a community, the lessons of agriculture are clearly, lessons for life.


About the Urban Fresh elective:

The Eastern University Academy (grades 7-12) seeks to provide a holistic, college-integrated learning community dedicated to the education of each student in the context of his/her unique interests. Merging the Big Picture Company & Early College High School designs, the Academy will provide students with an environment of excitement and early expectation through an integrative discovery-based learning experience that will develop logical reasoning, critical thinking, and purpose-driven global citizens. The school will graduate self-directed, self-aware learners many of whom will have successfully mastered college level work. 

The EUACS Urban Fresh elective is one compenent of Eastern University Academy’s Garden Project which uses hands on and real world learning to engage urban youth in food issues impacting their communities.  The elective includes field trips to community gardens, restaurants and school lunch programs, garden work and garden planning, harvesting and marketing discussions. The project includes an after school program for middle schoolers, a tie to the science curriculum and a location for student passion projects to take place including the design and building of a garden shed and a lasagna garden, as well as upcoming projects including a drip irrigation system design, a perennial flower planting design and tile mosaics for the shed.  Questions? Email Scott Britton