“We are working to change the way communities eat and learn through garden education,” says Jenny Angius, executive director of operations and development at nonprofit Urban Roots Teaching Farm in Reno, Nevada. “We think there are many ways to use the garden in a way that cultivates a healthier community, in far more ways than just growing things.”
In practice, the venture’s efforts include encouraging children to develop healthy eating habits and take a curious interest in where their food comes from. Urban Roots also highlights cost-effective growing techniques and creative ways to farm in smaller urban spaces.
We spoke to Anguis about repurposing spaces for gardening and the joys of plucking carrots from out of the dirt. We also touched on how to use farming as a way to improve academic achievement.
Learning Lessons Through Gardening
“Gardening teaches myriad lessons,” says Angius. “From children who are discovering how their food is grown for the first time and exploring new flavors and establishing healthy habits they will carry with them to maturity, to adults who are rediscovering that gardening produces bounty and can be a cost-effective method to supplementing their nutrition and easing pocketbook concerns.”
Angius adds that during the early months of the pandemic, the organization noticed a rise in the appetite for gardening education. Since then, Urban Roots Teaching Farm has been focused on accommodating learners of all ages and spreading word about sustainable and responsible gardening methods.
“Our nonprofit seeks to empower others through workshops, accessible learning opportunities and a place for community that we know will stick with them for years to come,” says Angius.
Read more: DragonSpunk helps community gardens become healing spaces.
Mastering Urban Growing
When it comes to the challenges of growing in urban areas, Angius believes that thinking in a flexible way is key.
“There are simple ways for individuals to harness growing these days,” says Angius. “From small-scale countertop herb gardens to tower gardens to community gardens.”
Angius also adds that the organization has noticed an increase in the desire to repurpose larger spaces into community-based growing spaces.
“Those who can influence change are open to discussing how they can help,” says Angius, referring to local elected and appointed officials, corporate partners and stakeholders.
Using Farming to Encourage Academic Achievement
One of the goals of the Urban Roots Teaching Farm is to use gardening as a way to improve and encourage academic achievement.
“There are endless topics we can integrate into gardening lessons. And we consider our teaching garden an extended tool that helps students retain these lessons with greater adoption,” says Angius.
“Students are invested in outcomes from the start to the finish, say from a carrot seed to carrots they harvested and sliced into their salad. We find this investment to improve retention and assist in forming healthier study and academic habits.”
Read more: “Gardening is something anyone can do,” say these urban gardening authors.
Surprising Carrots & Big Hit Tomatoes
Asked what sort of produce seems to amaze students the most, Angius plumps for carrots.
“Kids love the act of plucking carrots from the ground,” says Angius. “Given the vegetable is hidden from plain view, it’s quite the rewarding harvesting activity.”
Tomatoes also get a mention, adds Angius: “Watching tomatoes grow and ripen right on the vine, directly in front of them where they can either pluck and store or pop them right into their mouth is usually a big hit.”
The Key to Growing Yourself
“The act of growing teaches us so much about ourselves and gives us opportunities to learn and improve through trial and error,” says Angius when asked for some introductory gardening words of encouragement. “Whatever you attempt to grow, you’re also growing yourself—and that’s worth a try every day!”
Follow Urban Roots Teaching Farm on Instagram.