Sometimes it takes a little luck — or fate — to get a great idea off the ground. On that October night in 2008 at the U.S. Botanic Garden, Bernie Prince, Co-Executive Director of FRESHFARM Markets, was looking for a new school for their nascent educational program, FoodPrints, after their first school was closed by DCPS. Barbara Percival, a volunteer at Watkins Elementary School, was looking for ways to expand the garden program at the school, especially by introducing edible gardening. As they talked, they shared a vision about educating children to grow, tend and eat fresh vegetables grown in the school garden. From that seed the FoodPrints program has expanded to include five DC public schools on Capitol Hill, reaching over 1,000 students with the message that fresh vegetables and fruits not only taste good, but are good for you.
In the early days the FoodPrints classes took place in a poorly equipped science lab at Watkins, with a small sink, hotplates and disposable plates and utensils. Our vision was that we could reach all the students and their parents if we taught substantive lessons keyed to the DCPS curriculum, but also facilitated hands-on experiences with growing, harvesting, cooking and eating fresh vegetables. From the beginning the program was embraced enthusiastically by the teachers and parents at Watkins. Jennifer Mampara, who came on board as the lead teacher in the fall of 2009, began to develop a curriculum and approach to satisfy both academic needs and the overall purpose of educating children to make healthy choices about the food they eat. At the same time we expanded the vegetable garden on the south side of Watkins to include 23 raised beds. Thanks to the generosity of the Philip Graham Foundation, in 2010 we were able to erect a wrought iron fence around the vegetable garden, ensuring the safety of the students — and the vegetables — and creating a magical green garden space that is planted year round.
In the summer of 2011, a modern teaching kitchen was constructed at Watkins that we named the FoodLab. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign that succeeded because of the eleventh hour intervention by Jose Andres and Melissa Jones, the FoodLab is a model for other schools in DC and throughout the nation.
The success of FoodPrints is now measured by its expansion to other schools on Capitol Hill. For the past two years, FoodPrints has been a vibrant presence in Peabody Elementary and SWS (School Within School). This year we started new programs at Tyler Elementary and Ludlow Taylor Elementary Schools.
Key to the success of FoodPrints at each school is support from the school community — both the larger DCPS community, through the Office of the School Superintendent of Education, and the parents and PTAs of the participating schools. We now have six teachers, a director, and a coordinator who make the program work across the board. This year we are delighted to host a FoodCorps service member, Wally Graeber, who will work particularly with the new programs at Tyler and Ludlow-Taylor.
Written by Watkins Elementary School Volunteer and Master Gardener, Barbara Percival.