The Kitchen Community breaks ground on its school garden network

Last month High Ground News broke the news about The Kitchen Community (TKC) selecting Memphis as its next site for a network of fully funded school gardens. On Tuesday, the organization officially broke ground on its first Shelby County Schools garden.

SCS Superintendent Dorsey Hopson was on hand as well as Kimbal Musk, Cofounder and CEO of The Kitchen Community, for a ribbon cutting at the Maxine Smith STEAM Academy. By the end of the week, Resurrection Catholic School, Chickasaw Middle School and St. John Catholic School will all have Learning Gardens.

The Maxine Smith STEM Academy's orchestra and student ambassadors demonstrated the usefulness of the space. The garden includes 12 segmented beds and several sitting boulders and benches.

"I'm most excited to learn how to make different types of things and how they grow differently," a sixth grader said while pointing to the kale she planted yesterday.

"This is about starting that spark, watching a seed sprout and grow, and getting kids hooked on this idea," said Lauren Bangassar, who is a Regional Garden Educator for the Memphis network. Bangassar, along with her partner, Marie Dennan, will continue to work with teachers so they’re continually learning new ways to interact with the gardens.
"There are a lot of changes in the [Memphis] school districts right now, and we're pretty well known for adding value in difficult times," Musk said of his vision for Memphis. "We went through across Chicago when there was a major strike going on, and we were able to do a lot of our work with their mayor. Part of our success has been working in the tougher, more challenged districts, and hopefully in being a part of them becoming more successful," he added.  
So far, around 32 of the 100 free community gardens have been applied for. According to Darin Delay, Project Management Director, this is the most "first-call" applications that they have ever received in any region. "Which is inspiring," he added. "Once the schools see one of these, then they start to flood in. It isn't stopping at 100. The idea is that every school in the district will have one of these, and then we'll reach out to the surrounding areas and start to grow."

Applications are evaluated on a rolling basis, and TKC expects to exhaust its resources for 100 gardens by the end of next year. However, it doesn't stop there. They're looking to partner with local community groups who are interested in keeping up the gardens over the summer and to add value, like art pieces, to the gardens.

TKC is seeking to immediately hire a project manager as well as additional garden educators and project coordinators as more schools come on board. They are also seeking someone to fill the key position of regional director; this person would be responsible for building outside partnerships with stakeholders and keeping the project going beyond the immediate 100 gardens. The project is made possible through a partnership with Pyramid Peak Foundation, which has signed on for a $3 million to $4 million investment across three to four years.
To apply for a Learning Garden, see here. To apply for a full-time position, see here

Read more articles by Madeline Faber.

Madeline Faber is an editor and award-winning reporter. Her experience as a development reporter complements High Ground's mission to write about what's next for Memphis.
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