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MW - Daystar Education Association

Chicago, Illinois

Gardening a new and exciting experience for inner-city students

The four- by 60-foot Salsa Garden at Daystar came together beautifully with the help of many hands and much interest. A grant from Whole Kids Foundation facilitated the purchase of irrigation piping, hoses, soil, and child-appropriate tools and gloves for the garden, along with equipment, packaging, and extraneous ingredients for the kitchen. Making and selling homemade salsa was the plan.  

"Our goals—to allow children and community members an opportunity to experience gardening for the first time, to inspire passion for gardening, to teach the importance of healthy food for a healthy body, and to teach economics through sales of the salsa—were achieved," says the Daystar garden team. The school plans to use the funds made from the salsa (along with basil and peppers) toward more plants. They hope "the garden will be self-sustaining within a few years."

Many helpers, including Chicago Rotary members and college students, were motivated by the chance to bring fresh produce to a "food desert" and took part in building the garden. Others, including local businesses, donated goods and/or services.

Daystar is in an urban area, and the students who attend are urban-raised children. In short, most have never worked in a garden, nor even touched soil before. This was a profound experience for them, and one they won't soon forget.

The children were very purposely made a part of every aspect of the garden—the construction, the planting, the maintenance, and the harvesting. And there was a great deal of learning along the way.

"From laying soil to planting, from the observation of growth to testing for water levels, and from harvesting to preparation and sale of salsa, (they participated)," said the garden team. "From the beginning, they could see the significance weather, irrigation, and caretaking had on the final harvest, and their interest was heightened with each passing week. Several students and their families volunteered to care for the garden in the summer, and many more stopped by to check growth."

Making salsa with produce from the garden also taught students about economics, marketing, and solid planning. They were able to see a product though, from its very inception to the result in a jar. What's more, many students had never prepared food before. Their experience with the garden and salsa was wide scale.

"They spent time figuring the cost of ingredients, packaging, and labor to assess a profitable selling price for (the salsa)," the garden team says. "They advertised their product with posters and live 'commercials' performed for teachers and staff. By using all their crops that they worked so diligently to plant and care for, the students were made aware of the effects that uncontrollable factors such as weather have on the success of plant growth and food production and sales."

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The children were surprised and delighted at the flavor of their produce. "They realized that homegrown food straight from the soil is even more delicious!" the garden team says.