Since 2010, the Druid City Garden Project has operated teaching gardens in Tuscaloosa city and county elementary schools. The gardens enhance students’ math, science and even English classes – and a University of Alabama study has shown working in the school gardens has not only improved students’ education, but also their eating habits and propensity to eat healthier food options.
Now, the organization is announcing some changes to take the program beyond the boundaries of Tuscaloosa.
I spoke with Lindsay Turner Trammell, the director of the Druid City Garden Project – which is now Schoolyard Roots, is that right?
Lindsay Turner Trammell: That’s correct. So Druid City Garden Project has decided to change its name to Schoolyard Roots. We did this because we think that Schoolyard Roots, the name, is going to help us better reflect our goal of bringing a garden to every school across the state of Alabama, including right here in Tuscaloosa City and County.
Alex AuBuchon: Tell us a little more about the gardens specifically – what exactly do they offer students?
LT: Our dream is that, one day, there will be a teaching garden in every school across the state. We see
gardens as being incredible tools to teach hands-on science and math. They’re wonderful ways to connect kids to food and nutrition, to provide access to food in communities that may not have access to affordable, fresh, healthy food, and they’re wonderful tools to get kids excited about learning.
We see this every day in our programs, and it answers that age-old question of, “When am I ever going to use this?” Well, in our gardens, our kids use math. They apply science. They’re not just learning a standard and applying it in a worksheet. They’re actually seeing the application in a real-life situation and are able to run experiments in it. And that’s really exciting for kids, and adults alike. We often find that a lot of our teachers are really energized by having a teaching garden at their schools as well.
AA: So I mentioned earlier that the experience working in the gardens can also have an effect on eating habits – can you talk a bit about that aspect of the program?
LT: We had a teacher this last year, who – we just started the garden program at the school, and when we started, she was the teacher in the room that said “Sure, we can have the garden, but just so everyone knows, I don’t eat anything green. Ever.” And I want to keep in mind that this teacher has five kids – her personal kids – all of whom have various allergies and are picky eaters.
This teacher told us that every morning she eats a honey bun for breakfast. She won’t even eat the cafeteria’s food, she brings her own prepackaged food in. She goes home, same kind of thing for her family.
Well, for almost an entire year of the garden program, nothing really changed. She continued with her same eating habits. And at the very end of the school year, we had a cooking lesson where the kids made “green smoothies”. And that is a smoothie with mango and banana but also kale or spinach or other fresh garden produce that turns the smoothie green. And she felt a little embarrassed, because her kindergarten students were all willing to try this green smoothie, and here she was as their teacher, and she wasn’t taking a bite. So she tried it, and it changed her world. She loved it! And now, every single day, she makes a green smoothie for her entire family. And she is incorporating more fresh vegetables, her cholesterol levels have gone down – really, it’s been a complete turn for her entire family.
And we see and hear those sorts of stories all the time, where nutrition and eating habits are changing once people can actually see what a fresh vegetable is supposed to taste like.
AA: I understand another aspect of this name change is making the garden curriculum available to other schools outside the region – can you tell us about that?
LT: We were generously supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama and the state Department of Agriculture to publish our curriculum digitally on our website, which is now schoolyardroots.org. And we didn’t know what to expect when we first submitted it. You know, we know that we hear from teachers across Tuscaloosa and across the state who ask for our programs, so we felt that at least putting out the curriculum would help with one resource.
Well, within six months, we had sold the curriculum to teachers from across the country, from as far away as Michigan. Which, to us, given the small amount of advertising that we were able to do as a small nonprofit based here in Tuscaloosa, we felt was astounding and really showed the demand for this type of program, not only here in Tuscaloosa and Alabama, but across this country.
AA: So as the organization is evolving, how can people who are interested in what you’re doing learn more or get involved?
LT: First and foremost, everyone can check out our social media pages on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram. To celebrate our new name, we’re launching a lot of giveaways, so you can get some free merch and learn some gardening tips on there.
But for folks that want to get a little deeper and more involved, check out our website at schoolyardroots.org where you can find information on volunteering and other ways to contribute to the organization.
AA: Lindsay, thanks so much for coming in and speaking with us.
LT: I appreciate your time. Thank you.