Buford Middle School and City Schoolyard Garden recently hosted the 10th anniversary of the annual Fall Harvest Festival to celebrate the school garden’s bountiful harvest and the people that make it happen.
“The Harvest Festival brings our community together to appreciate everything the garden brings—teamwork, leadership, exploration, discovery and, of course, the wonderful vegetables, herbs, and flowers that the students grow,” said CSYG Executive Director Jeanette Abi-Nader.
Open to all City of Charlottesville families, the Harvest Festival offered garden tours, face painting, scavenger hunts, a petting zoo, and a local artisan marketplace selling wares such as jewelry and homemade jam. Additionally, food vendors were on site, including the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center (CATEC) food bus.
Since the garden at Buford was established in 2010, more than 260,000 youth interactions have been logged, providing a rich opportunity for learning year round. Meanwhile, the city schools now have nine gardens thanks to nearly $2.5 million in grants and individual donations, along with financial support from over 1000 businesses and school division funds.
“The evolution of our programming is a powerful testament to the role of the garden in the community and the identity of our school system,” said Abi-Nader. “Now we have urban gardening classes at CHS, Garden Aide classes at Buford, and regular outdoor learning opportunities at all six elementary schools.”
The gardens also provide cross-curricular learning such as ESL classes learning English vocabulary, science classes using the garden for lab experiments, and art classes painting gourds.
Eleventh-grader Manny Quezada began volunteering in the Buford garden when he was still in elementary school. He became a garden aide when he was in middle school, and he spent this past summer as a garden intern. Whether planting seeds, picking weeds, or harvesting his favorite green beans, Manny’s garden work has cultivated a love for the outdoors and appreciation for healthy foods.
“I had an option to work in the garden or go to PE class, and I chose the garden,” said Quezada. “It is rewarding to be able to enjoy the sunshine, relax, and see the results of my hard work.”
The first Harvest Festival nearly a decade ago had 20 visitors, and now the festival attracts over 600 attendees. The free dinner traditionally features the winning dish of Buford’s Veggie Cookoff, a friendly competition among students who create dishes using a special ingredient. Last year, the special ingredient was eggplant, and the winner was eggplant meatballs and pasta. This year’s special ingredient was tomatoes.
The festival was the kick-off event for the 2019 Charlottesville Healthy Schools Week and VA Farm to School Week, October 7-11. During the week, students in all nine of the city schools will participate in special programming that includes garden activities, visits from farm animals, and made-from-scratch lunches made with local ingredients provided by area farmers through Local Food Hub.
Locally-sourced lunch menu offerings will include:
- Monday: apples and pears
- Tuesday: fresh salsa, apples and pears
- Wednesday: Fresh herb baked chicken, yellow squash, tossed salad, apples and pears
- Thursday: homemade vegetable soup, tossed salad
- Friday: tossed salad, apples and pears