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At six Pinellas schools, food and education go hand in hand

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A seven-year-old project seeks to combine education while helping kids from low-income families get fresh foods.

The Edible Peace Patch builds educational gardens in Title I elementary schools in Pinellas County, particularly in areas that are “food deserts,” meaning they do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables within a 2-mile radius.

Title I school are those with a large population of low-income students. The first garden was built in 2009 at Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg. Since then, the schoolyard gardens have sprouted at five other St. Petersburg schools: Melrose, Fairmount Park, Maximo and Campbell Park elementaries, as well as Sanderlin IB World School.

The Edible Peace Patch also helps maintain the garden at Johns Hopkins Middle School in St. Pete. And, it has plans to begin a garden at Lealman Elementary School in January.

The five-year plan is to build an Educational Farm in Midtown. A plan is also underway to establish an urban science and wellness classroom in the form of a replicable urban farm.

The Peace Patch plans to develop a farm to cafeteria food system that links schoolyard gardens, community gardens, and an urban farm in Midtown.

The Edible Peace Patch is the brainchild of a group of Eckerd students who are seeking to eliminate poverty as a factor in educational success and diet-related health issues by cultivating healthy minds and bodies. To accomplish that mission, the Edible Peace Patch provides education through hands-on learning in the gardens.

More specifically, the gardens serve as a platform to teach students the importance of nutrition and gardening, while cultivating healthy minds and bodies and fostering community. The lesson plans are centered around Florida’s State Standards and so-called STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) education.

The kids not only learn from working in the gardens, they’re allowed to take home the food they’ve grown and share it with their families. Lakewood has thrown “harvest parties” where all the dishes were made with at least one school-grown vegetable.

The gardens are organic and built using a mixture of compost, sea grass, soil builder, charcoal and coffee grounds from Kahwa. The mix, all locally sourced, creates a nutrient-rich foundation. The actual gardens are planted in an aboveground box.

The Peace Patch works in partnership with Pinellas County Schools, the Pinellas County Health Department, the Florida Department of Agriculture, USF St. Petersburg, the City of St. Petersburg, as well as public and private institutions around the Tampa Bay area. Donations — including a recent $10,000 donation from the Penny Hoarder, a St. Pete startup.

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