OKC Harvest began in 2012 by two volunteers who found strong support within the community to build gardens for Oklahoma City schools. In 2014, OKC Harvest became part of well-established beautification and environmental education nonprofit, OKC Beautiful. By 2017, OKC Harvest supported 24 volunteer-led gardens around OKC.
In 2018, OKC Harvest took cues from around the country where other school garden support programs were succeeding. Evidence showed that school garden programs with paid garden educators were more resilient within turbulent, resource-strapped school districts. OKC Harvest sought to set up a Garden Educator Pilot Program, and in 2019, the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation partnered with the organization to manifest this vision by providing its support for two years through the Healthy Community Grant.
At the halfway point of the pilot program, OKC Harvest has made tremendous strides in establishing the value of the garden educator model. Two schools were chosen with opposite levels of economic advantage. The Oklahoma academic standards-based curriculum was tailored to the needs of each school.
After setting garden expectations and tool procedures, students learned about temperature patterns for the local climate, seasonality of crops, seed structure and germination. All grades planted Fall crops to grow over the Winter, explored decomposition with math and science themes, and practiced writing and vocabulary through observing and composing sentences. The 3rd and 4th grade students scouted for pests, measured plant growth, graphed the data from their hot compost pile, wrote in their science journals for every garden lesson, and connected the Dust Bowl to soil conservation techniques used in the garden. Early winter harvest and tastings were tied to multicultural harvest-time traditions. All students received health and nutrition lessons, learning the vitamin and mineral content of the foods they have grown and discussing why it is important to try new foods. Spring lessons included diversity within the garden ecosystem, planning and planting for the school pizza garden, and exploring worm bins indoors. Harvesting produce right out of the gardens in January and February was a new, delightful experience for students.
Our dedicated garden educators have worked hard to integrate the gardens into the culture of each school. Teacher and principal feedback have been overwhelmingly positive. One teacher said, “The garden program has far exceeded my expectations. I love the real-world connections my students are making. Just getting them outside, trying new foods, connecting to our science, math, and language standards has been so valuable. Our science journals have significantly improved this year.”
Heading into year two of the pilot program, OKC Harvest remains committed to the gardens it supports, and their staff aim to bring the garden educator model to fruition at each site.