Woods Earth Living Classroom grows more than food
Category: The Big Picture

Woods Earth Living Classroom grows more than food

Often, the most meaningful places can be discovered off the beaten path. One such place is Wood’s Earth, a hidden gem in Ithaca, NY.

At Wood’s Earth, 2.5 acres of land are designed to facilitate organic gardening, offer learning opportunities for kids, and provide community garden plots, with the added benefits of a drip irrigation system and deer fencing.

But it’s so much more than just a place to grow food. The purpose of Woods Earth is to source healthy local foods for Ithaca area schools, while simultaneously building partnerships to create a more sustainable food system. With strict federal regulations, school food is notoriously hard to change, and yet Wood’s Earth is doing just that. After talking with its founder, Audrey Baker, I learned that a great deal of Wood’s Earth’s purpose and scope is really about connection.

Currently, Wood’s Earth manages the Fresh Snacks program at BJM Elementary school and two days per week at Enfield Elementary school. Additionally, it supports the BackPack program of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier. Next year, this healthy snack program will be piloted at Belle Sherman Elementary for two days per week. All of the processing of foods happens in the Central ICSD kitchen.

So, this effort really is a collaboration. Success is based on partnerships between different people and different organizations, according to Baker. In order to be sustainable, programs such as Woods Earth need to have support. And according to The National Farm to School Network, these types of programs really can be a win-win situation for everyone including kids, farmers and communities, but it is dependent on our support and involvement.

“Food and kids are the nexus. You can’t talk about food without talking about the whole system,” said Baker, explaining that serving healthy snack to students is essential, but to really achieve systemic change, students should understand the big picture; so curriculum and teaching are essential components. An example is a past program implemented by Baker with staff from GIAC, entitled, “Playing with your Food,” a 6-week hands on interactive educational program, centered around growing food, composting, sustainability, cooking and understanding food systems, among other essential lessons. The program ended with an Iron Chef battle with two teams competing against one another. This program received funding from the NY Coalition for Healthy School Food and from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and was highly successful in not only getting kids to understand food systems, but in changing their perceptions about healthy food.

Specifically, Baker noted that Wood’s Earth is about:
*community and connection. “You start to care about food and it makes the land and people connected.”
*engaging youth in the school food system and providing access to healthy foods (via fresh snack program, for example) to children who otherwise would not be able to afford it.
*far reaching goals such as creating positive health outcomes, can create lifelong choices, and spread these to families, and has community building purposes as well. Learning farms such as this one are more than just about production of healthy foods. The benefits are achieved when its integrated into the curriculum, when the students get to experience what growing food is really about.

From their website, the name Woods Earth describes “our physical setting, our philosophy of respect for the natural landscape, and our overall mission of facilitating responsible land use and mentorship.”

In thinking about our students, about their health, their well-being, their growth, their futures, this program has the potential to provide real and engaging positive change for our community.

Wood’s Earth is located right off of Rt 327 (from Rt 13S), in Ithaca, NY, between Early Bird Farm and Treman Park. To learn more, or to make a donation please visit www.woodsearth.com. Wood’s Earth is a project of the Center for Transformative Action.

Image credit: Photo courtesy of Wood’s Earth

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