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Ag School Students Build Community Garden For Kids Living In Food Desert

By Howard Ludwig | April 18, 2016 6:51am | Updated on April 22, 2016 11:44am
 Students at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences built a garden Friday at Metcalfe Community Academy in West Pullman. The high school students also shared cooking tips, healthy eating lessons and other experiences with the elementary school kids living in a food desert.
Metcalfe Community Academy Garden
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WEST PULLMAN — A group of eight students at Robert H. Metcalfe Community Academy in West Pullman reluctantly tried zucchini bread Friday for the first time.

The seventh- and eighth-graders at 12339 S. Normal Ave. were treated to the sweet bread by fellow students at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in Mount Greenwood.

Lavennecy Miller, 13, was surprised that vegetables could taste so good. She and others snapped pictures of the recipe with their phones and promised to make it for their family members.

"I am going to be a little old lady living in a house someday making zucchini bread," Lavennecy said.

Lavennecy Miller, 13, (right) tried zucchini bread for the first time Friday along with her fellow classmates at Robert H. Metcalfe Community Academy in West Pullman. The cooking demonstration was put on by students at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in Mount Greenwood.

The cooking demonstration was part of an overall effort to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to underprivileged areas without such amenities — areas commonly known as "food deserts," said Jeannette Akuamoah, a senior at the high school at 3857 W. 111th St. in Mount Greenwood.

The day also included planting a community garden, building birdhouses, potting seeded plants that students could take home and providing information about healthy eating, said Akuamoah, a Beverly resident.

"We wanted a challenge where we could use all of our resources at our high school," she said.

Indeed, Akuamoah is part of a team of eight students from the Ag School competing in the Aspen Challenge — a student-led effort that aims to solve global problems. On April 27, student teams from throughout the city will present their programs to a panel of judges at Soldier Field.

The top teams are then invited to present their work at the Aspen Ideas Festival held annually in Aspen, Colo. The Bezos Family Foundation supports the Aspen Challenge.

The charity is run by Mike and Jackie Bezos, the mother and father of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. The pair started the foundation in 2000 using stock proceeds. This is the first year that the Aspen Challenge has come to Chicago.

Students in the younger grades at Robert H. Metcalfe Community Academy in West Pullman were paraded around the new garden that sits just south of their elementary school. All grades from within the school will take turns caring for the garden, a teacher said.

"I thought it was a good fit for us," said Bill Hook, principal at the Ag School.

He first heard about the Aspen Challenge through Chicago Public Schools and encouraged his students to apply. The Ag School students and others involved in the contest had seven weeks to tackle one of the problems presented by the coordinators.

While children were busy planting corn and other vegetables Friday, Hook surveyed the lot beside the school. He said future plans for the lot could also include more gardens, a walking path, the removal of some dead trees and even some benches to make the area more inviting for the roughly 450 students at Metcalfe and others living nearby.

Robbie Johnson teaches reading at Metcalfe and her son, Leotis, is part of the Aspen Challenge team at the Ag School. She said the elementary school had a garden seven years ago but it was never fully embraced by students.

That garden was later removed. But Johnson believes this time things will be different, as a maintenance plan is in place. Each grade is responsible for taking care of the garden for certain weeks — even throughout the summer.

"The hands-on participation in this garden is the icing on the cake," said Johnson, while holding back tears of joy from seeing her students so engaged.

Natavia Edwards, 14, said she looked forward to making some homegrown zucchini bread with the bounty from the garden later this summer.

"It's delicious, really great." Natavia said. "Plus, it's good to try something new."

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