On a sunny Saturday morning residents and volunteers crowded into the Wylde Center’s garden. It was Earth Day weekend and people busied themselves weeding plants, and building garden beds and picnic tables.
The Wylde Center, formerly known as the Oakhurst Community Garden Project, was getting ready for its big Earth Day celebration the next day. In addition to helping the center prepare for its celebration, 40 volunteers from ICF International and the Decatur Farm to School Initiative were working on projects for local elementary schools.
“We’re building garden beds for the 4/5 Academy, which doesn’t have a garden yet. We’ll be having a follow-up day to install them in the garden at the school, and work with some kids to put in the dirt and plant some things,” said Katherine Falen, one of the founders of the Decatur Farm to School Initiative and an employee of ICF International.
The Decatur Farm to School Initiative is an organization led by parents, teachers, school administrators and community members. The initiative works to connect schools with local farms, serve healthful meals in school cafeterias and improve student nutrition. Decatur Farm to School works hand-in-hand with City Schools of Decatur (CSD).
Falen said volunteers were also building picnic tables for the 4/5 Academy, a school serving all fourth and fifth graders in the CSD system. Every year around Earth Day, Falen said, ICF has a corporate volunteer day, and since she was one of the founders of Decatur Farm to School Initiative, associates decided to volunteer with her at the Wylde Center.
“As other general support to the [Wylde Center] we’ve been helping move herbs and getting ready for the plant sale that’s going to continue this weekend. We’re also helping them turn compost and rip out invasive trees,” Falen said.
David Cotton, senior vice president of ICF, said he thought a lot of people would be at the garden volunteering that weekend regardless of whether they worked for ICF, because Earth Day was important.
“A lot of people here live in the community but there are a lot of people all over who are committed to sustainable agriculture and supporting local, organic gardening and local food and promoting education for kids,” Cotton said. ICF is a contracting firm that does a wide range of work in such fields as health, education and energy.
“This work today is really hands-on and lets us do something locally that’s just at a different level of detail than we usually do,” Cotton said.
Misty Guard, an ICF employee who helped organize the volunteer effort, said farm to school initiatives are particularly important because they teach communities about where the foods people eat originate.
“It’s getting to the idea of trying to have more local agriculture and supporting more farmer’s markets so that we don’t have as many resources used in this country for the production of crops, which are transported large distances,” Guard said.
Kimberly Baker, a junior at Arabia Mountain High School in the DeKalb County School District, sat at a table with Decatur Farm to School T-shirts and pamphlets. Baker said she was volunteering at The Wylde Center for a school project. Above the sound of a buzz saw which was cutting wood to make picnic tables, Baker said she didn’t know much about the Decatur Farm to School Initiative but thought putting healthier food in children’s lunches was a good idea.
“It’s important because the food that they give at schools is bad and sometimes people get sick off it. I also think schools should start replacing the milk that comes with school lunches with juice,” Baker said.
Falen said part of the Decatur Farm to School Initiative is getting future generations to eat healthfully by educating children at an early age. She said recently students at each one of CSD’s schools had a taste test day where students ate the lettuce that was grown in each school’s individual garden.
“Previous harvests have been things like kale—I’d never had kale, it’s not one of those common things you think about—but we’ve got all kinds of kids running around now demanding kale,” Falen said.
As the volunteers from ICF completed the last garden bed and put the finishing touches on a picnic table, Cotton said people need to start getting more involved in where their food comes from.
“We’ve got to get the community to broadly promote the idea that industrial agriculture is ultimately going to kill us and we have to eat healthier, think healthier, and protect the earth and make it more sustainable,” Cotton said.