Literacy training and organic gardening might seem an unlikely pairing, but for Green Corn Project (GCP) and Communities In Schools of Central Texas’ ASPIRE Family Literacy Program, it’s turned out to be a match made in nonprofit heaven.
Located on the grounds just behind Travis High School, ASPIRE strives to improve literacy in the community by focusing on the whole family. “One of our main goals is to get parents involved in their children’s education,” says Oddett Garza-Weatherspoon, ASPIRE’s adult education coordinator. In this same vein, the partnership with GCP began two years ago when Garza-Weatherspoon wanted to encourage her literacy students and their families to make more healthful food choices. She thought the best way to accomplish this was through planting a garden.
When Garza-Weatherspoon applied for a GCP garden, Program Coordinator David Huebel jumped at the chance. “[The application] excited me,” he says, “because of the community aspect of ASPIRE and the opportunity to get families involved in growing food together.”
Since approving the application, GCP has been working with groups of volunteers to dig and plant multiple gardens at ASPIRE. Once a garden is planted, parents in the program and their kids take over its care, and Huebel visits periodically to offer tips on improving soil health and what and how to plant, water and weed.
“Many of our parents gardened back in their home countries, but need to learn about growing here in Central Texas,” says Garza-Weatherspoon. “We do a spring and summer garden, have a big harvest and then prepare food. We let the kids take some of the food home."
Recently, ASPIRE has started working with a group of families who wanted to start a community garden but didn’t have space in their apartment complex. Huebel and Garza-Weatherspoon decided to create 12 new 4-by-4-foot organic garden beds on the program’s property so each family would have a plot of their own. GCP provides the volunteer labor, tools, plants and seeds to help each of the families get started on their garden plots.
So far, the families are making good use of the gardens. “They’ve been sharing the small gardens and preparing dishes at ASPIRE,” says Huebel. While sharing the work and the meals, they’re also sharing their newly acquired language and literacy skills as they compare notes on weed pulling, soil preparations and insect control.
By Rachel Murray
For information on how to volunteer or make a donation to Green Corn Project, please visit greencornproject.org