One of the most wonderful traditions within Whole Foods Market is that each of our teams are encouraged by our leaders to hold an annual team building event. More often than not, teams choose to include a community service component. Our company leaders are no exception; they truly practice what they preach! Just last month the Global Vice Presidents from each department at our corporate office gathered for their own team build and they got their hands dirty. Literally. They spent their morning helping Austin’s Graham Elementary School turn their one-year-old set of eight raised garden beds into the school’s vision of a living classroom.
The work included assembling picnic tables, digging, installing drip irrigation in existing beds, weeding, creating two new limestone raised beds, digging, mulching walkways and digging. Lots of digging! Graham Elementary is pretty special. A few years ago the school was rated “acceptable” by state standards. But with the creativity and passion of the school’s faculty, lead by principal Blaine Helwig, the school has celebrated an “exemplary” rating for the last three years! They intend to continue this progress by implementing experiential learning — like that of the living classroom.
What makes Graham’s garden tick is the fact that the entire community is a part of the effort. For example, a couple of years ago two local non-profits, the Sustainable Food Center and Marathon Kids, partnered with the school to create a wellness team made up of parents, teachers and community members. And all of these groups showed up to help out as this first stage of garden transformation took place. According to master gardener Margaret Earnest, who insists she’s “just a volunteer,” the kids are learning all sorts of things in the garden including science and botany. “We just don’t tell them that,” she says. Margaret also leads the school’s 4th and 5th grade weekly after-school garden club which has a membership of over 50 kids this year! The day our group was there the club was releasing worms into the compost pile.
The garden at Graham is just one component of an even broader health effort at the school, which also features participation in Sustainable Food Center’s Sprouting Healthy Kids farm to school program and their Happy Kitchen cooking classes for parents. As well as Marathon Kids physical activity program – all led by members of the Graham school-community. The formula for success developed at Graham can work for just about any school:
find a couple of people who have deep passion and expertise
find even more people who are willing to learn and support
create a vision, a plan and implement it in phases
believe in the genius of our children
unleash their spirit
Our hats off to Graham and their supporters for their commitment to their kids, to our Whole Foods Market leaders who (literally) dug in to this worthy cause in their community and to all the communities everywhere where school gardens are teaching life lessons. See how you can help school gardens grow by visiting the Whole Kids Foundation® website.