Something special is growing in the Promise of Peace Garden at Bayles Elementary School, and the result aims to help feed the minds, bellies and spirits of the 500 families with children at the campus.
Elizabeth Dry, a retired Dallas ISD educator, started the nonprofit Promise of Peace to replace empty lots in underserved areas in Dallas with food-growing gardens. The plot behind Bayles is the fourth one planted by the organization.
But the effort isn’t only about putting plants in the ground; the “seed to soul” initiative aims to cover a lot of ground. Dry conducts cooking classes for parents so they will know how to prepare the garden’s bounty, and Bayles students receive regular lessons from the garden.
Principal Robby Wilson said Dry, who taught at Alex Sanger Elementary, reached out to him about planting a garden in part because many of her former colleagues transferred to the school.
He has already seen the garden yield several benefits for students, from experiencing the science of planting, to learning how to choose healthier foods and gaining a deeper understanding of how important the environment is to sustain life. The garden has already impacted families as well.
“The garden has brought families together as they come in work with their children,” Wilson said. “It has been a wonderful experience for parents and children to find the garden as a safe place for their participation in our school.”
Even further, the garden has proven to be a calming influence for the students who work in it.
“Students use this time of working or walking in the garden to regain self-awareness and self-regulation,” he said. “Walking and being mindful of their breathing has helped students control their anger and emotions until they are again self-regulated and ready to return to learning.”
Students agree about the garden’s calming nature. Two third-graders recently surveying how the plants they helped plant said working in the garden relaxes them and makes them feel better.
Dry said the garden is also meant to meet more basic needs – helping to feed Bayles families.
“My hope is that are able to put delicious and nutritious food in every child’s plate – we a growing a solution to hunger – the garden will double in size over the next two months,” Dry said. “I believe that the garden will bring the community together and offer simple solutions to many of the challenges that we face as an urban neighborhood.”
The garden is growing engagement inside and outside the school, she said. For example, she mentioned chefs/owners of 20 Feet Seafood Joint – Marc Cassel and Suzan Fries – who live in the community and have volunteered to raise money to support the project. They also participated in a farm-to-table tasting event in December.
As for the plants themselves, they are producing. Dry said right know that there is lettuce, collards, sorrel, spinach and cilantro ready to harvest. The spring and summer will bring tomatoes, basil, melons and cucumbers, among other produce. About the time school starts, there will be 500 pounds of potatoes ready to pull from the ground. A back-to-school potato festival will distribute the organic tubers to every family at the school.
She said supportive and responsive leadership is key, and Wilson provides that at his school.
Her Promise of Peace organization offers curriculum integration and professional development to make the most of a school garden and can consult to help establish new gardens.
“We build relationships and cultivate relationships so that the garden is sustained,” Dry said. “My experience as a public school administrator and curriculum writer equipped me with the understanding of what it takes to initiate and implement garden to classroom programming. The garden must become the heart of the school!”
At Bayles, Wilson said he hopes the garden will be a central part of the school’s academic and social-emotional learning.
“We want students to have opportunities to really experience science and learning outside a textbook,” he said. “We want students to learn about our natural environment and how we must protected it as it sustains us. And finally, we want the garden to be a place where students are able to utilize to regain self-control and self-awareness to overcome emotional outbursts of anger or sadness.”
- “Here Comes the Sun” benefit dinner for Promise of Peace Gardens “seed to soul” program is set for 6-9 p.m. Sunday, March 12, at Parigi in Uptown Dallas. Space is limited. Find information and purchase tickets at promiseofpeace.us/sun2017.
- The community is invited to tour the Bayles garden on April 25.
- Regular workdays are 10 a.m.-noon every third Saturday of the month at Bayles.