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Silver Springs students receive national attention for food projects

By ThisIsReno

SUBMITTED NEWS — After their keynote address at the Northern Nevada Food Systems Summit at the Governor’s Mansion in November 2013, Silver Springs teacher Rachel Leach and her 6th grade GREEN Team received a standing ovation from nearly 200 of Nevada’s leading food system experts.

New Developments: The applause was well deserved. The GREEN Team’s nationally recognized, award winning gardening/composting/ recycling/food waste reduction project has attracted statewide and even national attention. New connections made at the Food Summit have led to even more good news, including a school gardeners’ network in Lyon County, and a “biotecture” use for Silver Stage Elementary’s disposable lunch trays, cartons, etc. – they’re being incorporated into a nearby farmer’s “earthship”, a type of passive solar building made of natural and recycled materials. And as part of a special session at the Nevada Small Farm Conference in February 2014, Rachel Leach will be among the speakers describing how the “Farm to School” concept can be used innovatively in the curriculum.

Description of the GREEN Team Project: This well-organized, cross-disciplinary project was designed by Silver Springs Elementary teacher Rachel Leach, along with her 6th grade students. They’ve expanded a school garden and hoop house project to include a composting micro-business, and developed a brilliant system for reducing food waste and recyclables. The project is full of hands-on lessons in science, math, sustainable agricultural practices, and cooking, plus real-world lessons in business, responsibility, leadership skills, frugality, and good nutrition.

Rachel writes, ” I don’t think there’s a better place to teach in the world. Our students are kind and determined – the struggles they face don’t break them, they simply make them stronger and more empathetic toward others… My class decided to take over our school garden and start a composting and waste reduction project that has so far reduced our lunchtime garbage from 20 bags of trash a day to less than 4, with a total weight of 250 lbs per day reduced to under 35 lbs a day…’Composting project’ is a misnomer. These kids do so much more than just compost. They recycle, they give non-compostables to a local community member who raises pigs, and they save taxpayers money by using fewer garbage bags each day. In fact, this project has added a week onto our compactor schedule – instead of picking up the school’s compactor every third week, it is now picked up every fourth week. It has really morphed into something amazing, by far the most powerful thing I’ve ever experienced in my teaching career.”

National, Statewide, and Regional Recognition: In the last year, the GREEN Team project has received praise from Elise Golan, Office of the Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture, who writes, “This really is fabulous. We’ll be happy to list Silver Stage Elementary (led by the amazing 6th grade GREEN Team) as our first K-12 participant [in the USDA’s Food Waste Challenge]. All best regards and congratulations on a job well done!” The project has also received praise from Aurora Buffington at Nevada Health Division Office of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, from Clark County Food Hub Strategies group, from USDA Rural Development director in Nevada, Sarah Adler, and from Cliff Owl from USDA Food Waste Challenge who writes, “You really are setting quite the example.”

Setting a National Example in Food Waste Reduction: The GREEN Team has been asked to create a webinar for other schools in the U.S. to show them how to get started on a similar project. Rachel explains, “I received a message to call a woman at the EPA regarding our entry into the national Food Waste Challenge. I returned her call during my prep and talked to her for almost 30 minutes, explaining what we’ve been doing, including our amazing visit to the Food Summit. She is so impressed with what we have going on here, (and it probably doesn’t hurt that we are the only K-12 school in the entire country participating right now!) that she wants us to create a webinar to help other schools across the country get started on a similar project. There are 3 categories to the competition, and although most participants only qualify for one category, we actually qualify for all three!”

Funding for the GREEN Team: The GREEN Team project is possible through a remarkable list of partnerships and collaborative work. Recently, the GREEN Team won a $2,500 award for their outstanding work through a competition funded by the Dolan Automotive Group in Reno that will help expand the ambitious goals of their project. This week, farmers from Churchille Buttes Organics donated seedlings, Healthy Communities Coalition’s Community Roots donated lettuce and garlic seeds and row covers, and local parents and farmers from Dirt Merchant Farms joined the GREEN Team in digging and preparing rows for planting. Previously, materials for the garden, hoop house, and composting project included food grade buckets from Sam’s Club, an insulated compost tumbler from the school, technical assistance from Churchill Buttes Organics (Marcia and Steve Litsinger), a compost thermometer from Cooperative Extension, and hoop house materials, organic alfalfa, worm bin, shovels, rakes, and a wheel barrow from Healthy Communities Coalition’s USDA NIFA grant.

This week, farmers from Churchille Buttes Organics donated seedlings, Healthy Communities Coalition's Community Roots donated lettuce and garlic seeds and row covers, and local parents, plus farmers from Dirt Merchant Farms, joined the GREEN Team 6th graders, digging and preparing rows for planting (Photo by Rachel Leach, permission to use)

This week, farmers from Churchille Buttes Organics donated seedlings, Healthy Communities Coalition’s Community Roots donated lettuce and garlic seeds and row covers, and local parents, plus farmers from Dirt Merchant Farms, joined the GREEN Team 6th graders, digging and preparing rows for planting (Photo by Rachel Leach, permission to use)

Lyon School District Champions School Gardens as STEM Labs and Outdoor Classrooms: The school garden and hoop house at SSES are among 7 others in the Lyon County School District, a District that is extremely supportive of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lesson potential of these “outdoor classrooms.” The start -up funding for the school hoop houses and gardens in Lyon County came through Healthy Communities Coalition of Lyon and Storey grant funding through USDA and Nevada State Health Division. Technical guidance and initial organization was added by Healthy Communities Coalition’s nonprofit garden center, Community Roots, plus area farmers from Churchille Buttes, Dirt Merchants Farms, Holley Family Farms and Hungry Mother Organics. Volunteer labor to build the hoop houses and implement and maintain the gardens included students, parents, school staff, Silver Stage Co-Op members, Boys and Girls Club members, etc.