Dawes School edible garden.Photo by Anne Bodine

“Right there, in the middle of every school day, lies time and energy already devoted to the feeding of children. We have the power to turn that daily school lunch from an afterthought into a joyous education, a way of caring for our health, our environment, and our community.”
– Alice Waters, Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea

Alice Waters is the renowned chef and founder of The Edible Schoolyard Project, a program that involves students in all aspects of growing, cooking and sharing food at the table. She envisioned vegetable gardens growing in every school across the nation.

Alice Waters is the renowned chef and founder of The Edible Schoolyard Project, a program that involves students in all aspects of growing, cooking and sharing food at the table. She envisioned vegetable gardens growing in every school across the nation.
Teachers, parents, administrators and community members throughout Evanston are following Ms. Water’s lead and picking up their pitchforks.

There are currently 11 edible gardens at public, private and parochial schools throughout Evanston. The trend has gained momentum thanks, in part, to the support of two local organizations – SAGE (Schools Actively Gardening in Evanston), a program of the Evanston Environmental Association, and The Talking Farm, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the community about the importance of locally grown food.

Two of the more substantial Evanston school gardens are The Dawes Edible Garden at Dawes Elementary School and The Edible Acre at Evanston Township High School.

Dawes Edible Garden
Lynn Hyndman, manager of the Dawes Edible Garden and a retired District 65 schoolteacher, has been working her magic on the Dawes Garden since 2004. Inspired by Ms. Waters, Ms. Hyndman, who had taught at Dawes for 26 years, returned to the school as a volunteer to start the garden.

“It was an easy sell,” she said. “I knew a lot of the teachers and administrators and they knew how passionate I was about using the school grounds and nature as a tool for teaching across the curriculum.”

But getting the green light to grow a garden was perhaps the easiest part for
Ms. Hyndman.

“The reality is, there are many challenges to keeping a garden sustainable,” she said. “There needs to be a fair amount of parent and community volunteers. The teachers can’t be responsible for it.”

Thanks to the help of the many volunteers, Ms. Hyndman has been able to garner over the years, the Dawes Garden consists of a large prairie garden surrounded by 12 raised beds. There is also a butterfly garden, a sunflower garden, a three sisters garden (a traditional Native American garden of corn, beans and squash), a painted shed, a picnic table for classroom tastings and several compost bins. The garden is located outside just west of the school building.

Teachers are encouraged to incorporate the garden into the curriculum. Students also have some time allocated during the spring and fall months to assist in the gardening.

The students look forward to the Spring Tasting when classrooms come out to the garden and sample the spring harvest. In the fall, they celebrate the diversity of the garden and the diversity of the community.

“A healthy garden must have diversity in its plants just as a healthy community must have diversity in its people,” said Ms. Hyndman.

By the time Dawes students are graduating from fifth grade, they have had six years of formal lessons in the garden. Ms. Hyndman likes to ask them what they are taking away from their experience. She is often surprised by their answers.

“One girl said she enjoyed her time in the garden because it gave her something in common with the other students. Another student told me she likes garden-
time because it takes her away from the pressure of schoolwork.”

Ms. Hyndman said she could relate.

“I find when I am in the garden, I’m not really thinking. It’s reflective and
meditative, and the kids get that.”

The Edible Acre, ETHS
The Edible Acre, located on the 1600 block of Dodge Avenue directly across the street from ETHS, is a joint initiative between ETHS and The Talking Farm. What began as a pilot project in 2009 has grown into a vibrant vegetable garden consisting of 29 raised beds producing 2,500 pounds of produce each year.

Matt Ryan of the Talking Farm manages the garden with the help of students from ETHS horticulture classes, Senior Studies Program, and the community service office. During the school year, all of the produce goes to the school cafeteria, where Director of Nutrition Services, Kim Minestra, and Assistant Director of Nutrition Services, Emily Conti, help to coordinate the meals for ETHS students and staff.

“The location of the garden can’t be beat,” said Ms. Conti. “It has helped tremendously with our goal to serve local foods in the cafeteria.”

The garden has also helped with the school’s goal to get students to consume more fruits and vegetables. Most of the produce goes into the school salad bar, but occasionally the vegetables are worked into the cooked meals.

“Not only is it considered cool if they know their friends may have had a hand in growing the food, there seems to be a trust factor, too,” said Ms. Conti. “They saw it grow or talked to the person who grew it. They know it’s safe and it’s real food.”

Throughout the summer, when the harvest is at its most bountiful, students from the City of Evanston’s Summer Youth Employment Program are paid to work up to 25 hours per week to tend to the garden and assist Mr. Ryan.

These students also sell most of the summer produce at the Evanston Farmers’ Market every Saturday. Proceeds from the sale are used for garden maintenance.

“The kids who work in the garden gain so much,” said Mr. Ryan. “They not only gain an appreciation for growing food themselves, they also learn a skill set and about basic work ethic.”

Resources on how to start a school garden are online at sageevanston.org, thetalkingfarm.org or theedibleschoolyard.org.