Visionary instructor Carla Marshall created an organic gardening curriculum for children at South Austin's Becker Elementary in 1989. She persuaded the school district and the Becker principal to make an empty house and yard the district had purchased across from the school available for what she called the Green Classroom. She scavenged for soil, gardening tools, and materials, and set out to rehabilitate the yard and turn the house into a learning center. Most of the work (and her initial salary) was paid for by small grants she wrote herself. Though the AISD curriculum office listed the Green Classroom as an Environmental Science project, Marshall's concept provided students with a totally integrated learning situation that bolstered education in all disciplines while providing opportunities to develop communication skills and self-esteem. I met Carla not long after I became a columnist with the Chronicle, and the story I wrote about her meeting with Alice Waters ("Common Ground," June 28, 1996) was one of my first big features. I lost touch with her when she left teaching to help form a curriculum development company, but Becker still has the Green Classroom, and I noticed it in the news again recently, with yet another visionary, Olympic swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale (@athleticfoodie), working to support it. Weber-Gale has joined forces with PACT Apparel, the Whole Kids Foundation, and Indiegogo to raise funds to help build gardens at 100 urban schools across the country. The goal at Becker is to raise $2,500 to refurbish the garden and install a demonstration kitchen where local chefs can teach kids how to cook what they've grown. The Becker campaign runs through Thursday, Feb. 28. Go to www.indiegogo.com/projects/becker-elementary to donate.
According to a bulletin from the Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance, five bills that will have an impact on local food issues have already been filed for this legislative session, and another three will be filed soon: • HB 46 improves access to raw milk; • HB 254 protects urban farmers and community gardens from paying unneeded wastewater fees; • HB 910 limits the fees that can be imposed by local and state health departments for farmers selling directly to consumers; • HB 970 supports home-based food production; • HB 1306 establishes fair property taxes for urban farms and gardens. The other three bills would make it easier to offer samples at farmers' markets and stands; improve access to land for community gardens; and remove some barriers to local food production and distribution. The chances of any of these measures passing is directly related to the amount of support they get from consumers and food-related nonprofit organizations. Contact your legislators (www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us, for contact info) to let them know that these issues matter to you as a consumer of local food, and as a voter. See more details on these local food bills at www.farmandranchfreedom.org.
With South by Southwest fast approaching, keep an eye on our On the Range blog for updates on the cool events taking place all over town.
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