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All Corps Day: Schoolyard gardening

By: Dita Amtey

May 6th marked Conservation Corps Minnesota’s second All Corps Day community service project. While the previous All Corps Day addressed issues of homelessness and housing, this warm spring afternoon made for an opportunity for corps members of different programs to meet and learn about environmental education, more specifically, local schoolyard gardening. Together members visited Rivers Edge Academy, a local charter school with an alternative, environmentally driven curriculum. Afterwards, corps members heard about the work of Eco Education, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing public outdoor education by teaming up with local schools. The group ended the day at Brooklyn Center High School constructing what will soon be a schoolyard garden.  

Each All Corps Day is related to environmental justice. Environmental justice can only be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn and work. Schoolyard gardening is an essential piece of the environmental justice movement because it not only teaches students about the natural world, but also teaches them how to grow food for themselves when grocery stores and healthy food options are not available.

River’s Edge Academy (REA) is a tuition free, Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound charter high school. The high school is committed to providing a small learning community for students in St. Paul. REA educates students to become environmentally responsible, socially conscious, and scholastically prepared for college and active community life. Here, corps members heard from Sky Davey, special education/humanities teacher at REA and former Conservation Corps Minnesota member, three currently enrolled students and the school’s executive director, Meghan Cavalier. Rivers Edge Academy is an engaging alternative to traditional public school education whose work in the community can be measured by the success of its young scholars.

Lea Favor, Elise Griffin, and Micaela Mathre of Eco Education talked with corps members about their mission to support young people and educators through innovative, culturally-relevant programs that empower young people to improve the health of the environment and their communities. The organization stands at the intersection of three words: environment, education, and equity. Corps members were able to become part of Eco Education’s schoolyard gardening project at Brooklyn Center High School where they began construction of several garden components. Corps members and Eco Education staff at Brooklyn Center High School built raised plant beds, made signs, and created mosaics for the schoolyard garden that will soon be a outdoor fixture at the high school. This schoolyard garden will host classes and give students hands on experience learning earth science and provide students with an outdoor alternative to sports.

The second All Corps Day of the year was a great success. A special thanks to River Edge Academy and Eco Education for doing the important work that made our All Corps Day educational, fulfilling and worthwhile.