Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones/file
The Clarke County School District has put on hold its unpopular plan to pave over a community garden as part of a renovation project to convert the long-vacant West Broad School into offices.
At a meeting of the Board of Education’s property committee on Tuesday, district administrators provided the Athens Land Trust—which operates the West Broad Market Garden on the West Broad School grounds—with a letter guaranteeing that the garden will remain on the property for at least three years. The ALT needed the guarantee in order to pursue federal grants.
Associate Superintendent Ted Gilbert told the committee that the planning process for the West Broad School renovations will take years.
First, the district is participating in a “feasibility study” on revitalizing the Hancock Corridor/Rocksprings area, along with a stakeholder group including the ALT, Athens-Clarke County government, Athens Housing Authority and neighborhood residents. The four institutional participants have already committed $10,000 each to the study, and the school board will vote tonight on spending another $5,000.
When the study is complete, the district will appoint a stakeholder to provide input on the West Broad renovations and hire an architect. Superintendent Philip Lanoue compared the process to the H.T. Edwards renovations, which involved dozens of alumni and took about two years to plan.
Although the garden has gained a reprieve, Lanoue has proposed cutting funding for the garden in the district’s 2017 budget, which the school board will also be discussing tonight. Lanoue has zeroed out funding for the Young Urban Farmers program, which pays students—many of them from low-income families—to work in the garden. Students could still work, but they would receive class credit instead of money.
In response to questions from Flagpole, CCSD spokeswoman Anisa Sullivan Jimenez released an email from ALT Executive Director Heather Benham to her board members:
I have spoken with a few of you about some possible changes coming to the Young Urban Farmer program next program year. Based on several meetings over the course of the year, with Dr. Lanoue and Dr. Tavernier of the school district, we are planning to move the program from a work-study format to a credit-based program, with an an associated high school agricultural pathway. Through this pathway, we are exploring the possibility of students also receiving college credit - as well as expanding the number of students involved.
Also, we did change some of the wording in our CDBG grant contract, with a proposed letter of support from the school district, before it was submitted yesterday. There has been a suggestion that we continue to try to find the funding to pay the students and we will look into ways to accomplish that. The district is diversifying the funds in order to expand work experience for students. We believe we will continue to benefit from some of this funding through Great Promise Partnership, which is a district/statewide initiative with a full-time staff person at the district office starting this summer.
Please let people know that the Young Urban Farmers program wouldn't have been possible without the support of the school district, and that we plan to continue developing and strengthening our partnership moving forward. Our effectiveness hinges on our strong partnerships - I appreciate your help in getting this message out.
Jimenez could not say Wednesday how much funding the program had received in past years, and the district’s budgets are not available online.
CCSD has received accolades for its farm-to-school programs, which also includes initiatives to serve food grown in school gardens to students, and classes that involve compost or repurpose leftover uneaten food. Just this week, the state Department of Agriculture named CCSD a “Georgia Grown system of distinction.” From an ag department news release:
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black has announced Carrollton City Schools, Clarke County Schools and Bibb County Schools as the first recipients of the Georgia Grown System of Distinction Award. This award was established to recognize the nutrition directors and their schools for being the “first to the plate” on developing superior farm to school programs on the state and national level.
Each school system has offered first-rate insight, abundant student involvement and stellar farm to school events that has led to further development of the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s multiple farm to school efforts.
Commissioner Black says these three school systems are on the forefront of the farm to school movement in the state and key to the success of the 20/20 Vision for School Nutrition in Georgia which aims to have at least 20 percent of every meal in every Georgia public school every day to be comprised of Georgia products by the start of the 2020 school year.
“These school nutrition directors are setting the example of how to purchase local products for school systems, all while improving the nutritional value for their students,” Commissioner Black said. “We appreciate all of their outstanding efforts and look forward to building upon our relationship for our children to promote local and healthy eating.”
All three school system Nutrition Directors are on the 20/20 Vision Planning team. Bibb County Schools will participate in their third Feed My School for a Week and Carrollton City Schools will be a Georgia Grown Test Kitchen for the second year.