By Jan Worth-Nelson
The Pierce hoop house is back. First a sign of hope, then a source of despair after vandalism, the structure was rescued back to its hopeful role at Pierce Creative Arts Elementary School Saturday. A work day drew neighbors, community volunteers and representatives from charitable organizations in blustery but sunny weather to resuscitate the structure and its associated gardening projects.
Volunteers from the AmericaCorps/Food Corps/Crim Fitness Foundation programs, along with College Cultural neighbors and Southwestern High School honors society students were among those on the scene.
Jeff Martin of Clio, FoodCorps fellow for the State of Michigan, said the project has been “a long process, with challenges” after the hoop house was burned down by vandals last year. Planners had to wait through the winter for soil and weather conditions to be right for rebuilding and planting.
Martin said the community surrounding the school had expressed concerns, especially after the vandalism, and wanted the project and the hoop house to come back up. “We want to be more inclusive with the community,” he said.
Rae Schmitt, a FoodCorps worker in charge of garden-based education, said the hoop house beds will initially be planted with a combination of cool weather seeds, like onions, asparagus, spinach and kale.
As for the community beds, people signing contracts for their use can plant whatever they please — flowers or vegetables or both. “If we get more community interest we’ll add more beds,” Schmitt said.
Pierce kindergartner A.J. Adolphio “A.J.” Johnson joined the others with many wheelbarrows full of mulch.
“We are so proud of you,” one of the adults nearby commented to A.J. as he swung a wheelbarrow around and carted it to the community beds.
In an April interview with East Village Magazine, Kyle Peppin talked about what to him is the significance of the hoop house project. “It’s functional – it’s something people see every day,” he noted. Crucially, he emphasized, Pierce’s 245 students are participating in every step: cleanup, planting, weeding, harvesting, preparing the harvest. And, he said, while USDA rules prohibit using hoop house produce in school lunches, the vegetables can be used for “educational snacks” as part of classroom lessons on gardening and nutrition and to take home. An after-school group called “Sprouts Scouts” focuses on fun activities built around the garden.
Beyond the hoop house, Peppin, Pierce’s full-time community education director, hopes people begin to think of the school as a place to participate, to do other things – “knitting clubs, zumba, whatever.” His presence in the school, along with counterparts in the district’s other 10 schools, are part of a resurrection in the district of community education — a program and philosophy that had boomed in Flint in the 50s and 60s. The 21st century version has been funded by the C.S. Mott Foundation, with the Crim Fitness Foundation selected as “lead partner” to receive Mott funds and implement the community education program.
Community education, Peppin explained in the April interview, is a strategy to bridge several disparate elements together: the neighborhood around the school, the parents, the staff and of course, the students.
The hoop house project is tangible evidence, at least at one Flint school, that the program is beginning to bear fruit.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More photos below: