School gets hands-on with gardening

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The future of the sustainable revolution isn’t really up to us. At worst, we can get in the way and try to slow down the momentum. At best, we can help put the next generation in a position to thrive.

This process is taking place in schools throughout North Fulton.

Amana Academy – a relatively new charter school, which occupies a former grocery store – is one of the schools taking their own measures to improve the viability of the farm-to-school movement.

Amana doesn’t have the resources of a private school, nor do they have the power of associating with public school funding.

Though they still have to follow the guidelines set out by city and state governments, Amana is often squeezed into a place where they have to get creative in order make strides toward their goal of providing fresh, local food for their students – a goal established in the early planning stages of the school itself.

“There’s just a lot of red tape that you have to go through,” said Ehab Jaleel, executive director at Amana Academy. “They don’t make it easy. From a pricing perspective, there’s limits as to how much we can charge for certain things, and as a charter school, we’re not a big bulk buyer, so we’re kind of being squeezed into a place that makes it difficult to do what we want to do.”

This difficulty became a source of frustration for institutional advancement specialist and leader of the Gardening Club Niki Fox. One day, she wanted to improve the frontage of the school with useful plants.

“Niki came up to me and said, ‘We’ve got a bunch of bushes in the front yard, can we just get rid of them all?’” Jaleel said. “Because I want to use that as a starting point for the garden.”

Shortly after, she did exactly that as a part of Amana’s farm-to-school expedition program. In this program, students visit local farms, discuss where their food comes from and study the entire food process.

This year, the process had even deeper meaning for the students.

“This year, they were actually able to plant it, grow it, harvest it, make salads and eat them, and really see that process from seed to table,” said Fox. “It was really powerful for them to see what they did and watch it grow, to understand how much work goes into that. To actually get to eat the fruits of their labor was really rewarding.”

They also hope to open the eyes of a few parents, too. The garden is right in front of the building, immediately in front of the drop-off and pick-up zone. Jaleel, a former marketing executive at Coke, likened it to certain types of marketing that break through norms and capture people’s attention for the sheer fact that it isn’t supposed to be there.

“When [parents] see it, that’s when they become engaged,” said Jaleel. “When I see it on television, I see it at Wills Park, but here, it’s interrupting you. It’s right there. You have to force people to see it in unexpected areas.”

That is certainly what Amana is doing – all, ironically, from an old grocery store. When you consider that sustainable wave coming over us, they aren’t likely to be the last to flip the script on today’s social norms.

James Carr is working on a book about the local, sustainable movement called “The Jig Is Up.” For more information, visit thejigisup89.com.

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