In 2020, St. Croix Montessori School, located on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was inspired by the Edible Schoolyard program in Berkeley, CA and decided to plant a seed towards their garden goals. First, they discussed with their board of directors and staff the options available that could make the vision come to life. With the help of a local non-profit assistance organization, known as St. Croix Foundation, they secured an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer to assist them in this new project. At the beginning of the 2021 Fall Semester, they applied to the St. Croix Foundation Sprint to Excellence Education Relief Grant and various other online grant opportunities, including the 2021 Kids Gardening Youth Garden Grant. By the end of the year, they received over $50,000 in funding to use for the foundation of their school garden program.
Since receiving the generous award from Kids Gardening including a $250 check and garden supplies, St. Croix Montessori School has transformed their outdoor space into an Edible Schoolyard. The school has used these resources in addition to local funding and resources to build a fenced shade house with raised beds and visited multiple farms locally to learn more about sustainable agriculture. The school community has also engaged in two events hosted on site to bring students and families together for gardening activities and fun outside in nature. One of these events was on Global Youth Service Day, in which the students participated in collecting and boxing dry food donations and transplanting sprouts to bigger pots. Families joined the students in helping gather and drop off donations to the local food pantry and learning about the importance of gardening and the Edible Schoolyard Program.
At these events students used the materials donated by Kids Gardening as well as other locally grown seeds, soil and supplies. Without the help of our community sponsors, Kids Gardening, and Sodexo, this event and the garden progress would not be possible. The school is extremely grateful for all of the support received thus far and continues to work each day on implementing a plan to maintain the garden program for the long-term vision. Their community consists of 45 students between the ages of 3-12, parents, family members, teachers, aides, landscapers, and local farmers. Although the program has just begun in the fall of 2021, the school hopes to keep growing food for generations to come and to inspire positive change for the climate and food security on the island and globally.
As for challenges, the island is constantly facing environmental obstacles that they also consistently overcome through their unwavering resilience and community. After the storms of 2017, locals and natives living stateside have come together for their island to bring back the life lost and revitalize the natural beauty of the Caribbean. Part of this process has included rebuilding and creating sustainable agriculture practices and helping farmers provide more food for the island. In addition to the hurricane season, St. Croix also faces other environmental factors such as droughts/extreme heat, isolation from the U.S. mainland, and lack of transportation infrastructure. Luckily, the Department of Agriculture has an office on the island and offers affordable farming supplies to the community, which the school has also utilized for their Edible Schoolyard classroom. The biggest challenge overall is time management. Although there are resources available and many people willing to help execute the garden program, it seems that there is often not enough time in the days to make the process go faster than it can. The hardest lesson so far has been that, like growing food, good fruits take time to bear and are always worth waiting for. There are endless amounts of grants and donors to reach out to help with the garden project, however, it takes time and coordination from everyone to make it all possible. Now that the garden has been created, the next steps towards establishing sustainable funding sources are becoming more important. Gathering information, creating budgets, and completing grant reports are the actions that have become most challenging to accomplish quickly and need to be achieved over longer periods of time on a schedule. As for the garden, time management is also necessary to assure that plants and resources are not wasted. The best way to avoid crops dying or not bearing is to work with a local farmer that is knowledgeable about the environment and how to best grow food for sustainability. St. Croix Montessori School has partnered with local farmers to assist in building and maintaining the garden, as well as leading educational workshops with the students. The time donated to the school by the farmer is being compensated by the grant funding received from the local education grant.
The Growing School Food Gardens project is supported by a 2021 USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant. Learn more about this project.