Green Corn Project: Austin Discovery School

By Suzanne Hurley

Even before the first day of school, Rebecca Vore knew what her students would come to school asking about—the last day of school. The kids weren’t already sick of school, just excited about another Pizza Day, and not the fast-food frenzy most parents expect, either. At Austin Discovery School (ADS), a K-5 charter school in East Austin, Pizza Day is the culmination of the school’s yearlong focus on nutrition and gardening.  

For a week before Pizza Day, the kids make sauce from the tomatoes and herbs grown in beds outside their classrooms. Then they harvest all the vegetables left in their gardens—from squash to cherry tomatoes to Swiss chard—and sauté them to use as pizza toppings. 

Volunteers from Green Corn Project (GCP) dug the school’s first biointensive garden bed in 2005. In the spring of 2006 they added a second bed. Since then, ADS has been gradually filling its 200-acre campus with vegetable gardens. ADS is one of the 10 local schools where GCP has installed a garden.

These schools are typically in underserved areas, where students and parents have limited access to organic foods.

At ADS, the youngest students—kindergarteners and first graders—are the ones primarily responsible for all garden maintenance: planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. That might explain why wildflowers still bloom everywhere. They take up valuable bed space but the kids find them too pretty to pull out. The students also let the parsley grow wild because they love to watch the black swallowtail caterpillars crawl all over it.

In addition to offering a fun way to learn about nutrition, the gardens are “a natural place to teach science,” according to Rebecca Vore, who sometimes seats her students outdoors, on rocks surrounding one of the gardens. In this setting, she says, it’s easy to get her classes into discussion of the sweetness of beets and how they turn into sugar, or to run taste tests of radishes, with and without their peels. Such obvious topics as photosynthesis come up naturally, as do questions about why the GCP beds, which are double dug and planted according to hexagonal spacing instead of traditional straight rows, are more productive than the other vegetable beds on the grounds.

The children seem to delight in watching the seeds they planted grow into something they can eat. Some surprise themselves—and their parents—by discovering a taste for traditionally “yucky” vegetables, such as cabbage and kale.

And that’s just the first step. Next, of course, is a cooking lesson. What parent doesn’t need to know how to make Ms. Rebecca’s sautéed cabbage with onions?