DeKalb schools eligible for garden revitalization grants

While some may think of gardening on school grounds as a new trend, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, “School gardens have been around for over 100 years and school districts continue to use them today to establish healthy eating habits; as educational tools in the classroom; and to promote community inclusion.”

Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) recently announced that it has partnered with Cox Enterprises and the Turner Foundation to make revitalization grants available to hundreds of school gardens across the metro Atlanta area through CPF’s Project Learning Garden (PLG) Rejuvenation Fund. Applications are reviewed by an internal committee and grants are awarded based on the criteria needed to support the program goals outlined by the school, according to CPF. The grant money can be used to expand the garden with additional beds, replace old beds, soil, or seeds/plants. It can also be used to start a composting program, CPF reports.

Based on the animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers, CPF was co-founded in 1991 by media mogul Ted Turner and executive producer Barbara Pyle. Now in its 31st year, the organization “works collaboratively to engage and empower young people to be problem solvers for the planet,” according to its website.

The gardens bring students, families, school staff and communities together to cultivate a healthy environment, according to Stephanie Toone, communications director for CPF. “School gardens teach students about the source of their food, and—in turn—they gain an appreciation and respect for growing nourishing food and taking care of the soil and plant life in their communities and beyond,” she said.

“There are reportedly more than 5,000 school gardens in the U.S., but they are not all supported by specific curriculum and unique tools that Captain Planet Foundationprovides. We are proud to have 323 gardens in the metro Atlanta area and more than 570 across 40 states nationally. We believe gardens are an extension of the classroom for educators and students,” continued Toone, who said PLG gardens typically have five to 10 raised beds.

“DeKalb County schools have nearly 50 active PLG school garden partners, and we’ve had a very extensive relationship with DeKalb County Schools. Several of DeKalb’s PLG schools qualify for our newly launched PLG Garden Rejuvenation Grant, which Cox Enterprises is supporting. We’re inviting DeKalb County schools and schools across metro Atlanta to apply for the grant to revitalize their gardens that were planted more than six years ago,” Toone said.

Public and private schools in DeKalb eligible to apply for garden revitalization grants are a diverse group that includes Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, Cedar Grove Middle School in Decatur, Charles Drew Charter School in Atlanta, Druid Hills Middle School in Atlanta, Fernbank Elementary School in Atlanta, Future Learners Christian Academy in Decatur, Holy Trinity Preschool in Decatur, Mary McLeod Bethune Middle School in Decatur, and Wynbrooke Elementary School in Stone Mountain.

“Students often respond with wonder and curiosity once they see how gardening affects their everyday life. It’s refreshing and humbling when we encounter young people who are excited and willing to do what is needed to help the garden grow,” Toone said. To have a gardening program, “a school needs an active garden committee that is made up of educators, students, parents, and community members,” she added.

Toone noted that Georgia school gardens grow a variety of spring, summer and fall crops, including sweet potatoes, greens, radishes, beets, spinach or lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. “The beautiful thing is after students see their hard work of gardening transform to harvesting, they can take the literal fruits of their labor home to their families. We also donate much of the harvests to local food banks,” she said.

Project Learning Garden is described in its materials as “a holistic program that provides all the essential elements needed to establish and support garden-based learning programs.” Its new grant opportunity commemorates the program’s 10th anniversary and is designed “to upgrade critical garden infrastructure at schools that have successfully cultivated Project Learning Gardens for six years or more.”

Addressing the involvement of Cox Enterprises—headquartered in Atlanta—in the project, Maury Wolfe, the company’s vice president of social impact, commented, “The Garden Rejuvenation Fund demonstrates the importance of environmental curriculum in childhood education as well as the significance of Captain Planet Foundation’s work. Cox is a proud ally of the fund because it will support aging gardens in our hometown,” he said.

“We are excited to expand our partnership with CPF, support these mature learning gardens and ensure another cohort of students benefit from learning more about sustainability and how it can positively affect their communities,” Wolfe added.

The rejuvenation fund will ensure that the journey of outdoor learning can continue for the legions of PLG students and teachers for years to come, according to fund officials, who note that eligible PLG schools will receive a one-time investment of up to $1,000 to rejuvenate their garden space with improvements such as garden bed replacement, soil and amendments, a composting station, irrigation system, training for teachers or new cooking equipment. Applications are open until Dec. 15 at bit.ly/3x5eZPH.

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