How does your garden grow? In Bellingham schools, it grows and flourishes with the constant and passionate involvement of Common Threads Farm, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching kids where food comes from, how to grow it, and how to become a healthy eater.
In Bellingham Public Schools, 13 of our 14 elementary schools and two of our middle schools (Kulshan and Whatcom) host and maintain a garden.
The brainchild of parent and community member Laura Plaut, Common Threads Farm first sprouted as an idea when Plaut’s son, at a very early age, was being influenced by the marketing of highly processed food all around him. She knew she had to take on food education as a parent for her son’s sake.
Thanks to her work through Common Threads Farm, Plaut’s healthy food values are now shared with other children and can be found growing alongside the beans and brussels sprouts outside of schools throughout Whatcom County.
In 2009, the original six gardens were put in with funding through the Whatcom Community Foundation. Since then, the gardens have grown in number and have become an integral part of school culture.
School gardens engage students in learning about where food comes from and how it is grown, an experience most wouldn’t have without visits to the garden. AmeriCorps members from Common Threads Farm spend time gardening and preparing food with students, sharing science and nutrition information.
Aside from obvious information sharing, some benefits of a school garden are not as measurable, but just as valuable. “I think for the kids, the big takeaway is a sense of competence, pride and connectedness, as well as a chance to explore the natural world right on their school grounds,” says Plaut.
“Teachers often tell us how much they value opportunities for their students to engage in the real world, hands-on.“
“Honestly, though, what we find most,” Plaut continues, “is that both teachers and kids value the chance for everyone to work together, get dirty, be curious and caring, and practice careful observation skills.”
AmeriCorps members have supported the work of Common Threads Farm since 2010. There will be 14 AmeriCorps service members in 2017-18, an increase from nine in 2016-17. They will continue to show young hands how to dig in the dirt, plant a seed and help it grow, and to teach the value of good food and healthy eating.
Plaut and her Commons Thread team are also part of the district’s Farm-to-School Advisory Group and have been an integral part of working toward a vision of the Central Kitchen initiative and improvements to food in school cafeterias. Common Threads Farm also offers after-school cooking lessons and farm camp in the summer.
Photos: AmeriCorps staff in spring 2017 work with students in school gardens located throughout the district.