Founded in 2000 by a dedicated group of parents and teachers, the Garden of Wonders education program began at Edwards Elementary School with a small group of students and parents working in a community garden plot. Along with the creation of grade appropriate garden curriculum, the Garden of Wonders initiated a number of school-wide events, such as an Earth Day Celebration, a Harvest Festival, and a Chefs-in-Residence program. The support of a number of community partners, such as the Portland Schools Foundation, Slow Food, Chef’s Collaborative, and Portland State University’s FEED (Food-based Ecological Education Design) project, helped to make these program improvements possible.
In 2005, with the closing of Edwards Elementary, the Garden of Wonders was relocated along with the Edwards students to Abernethy Elementary School. Besides almost doubling the student population served, the move also provided a new kitchen-classroom space for instructing children in the preparation of home-cooked meals from their harvests and increased garden space.
Beginning in September 2005 the Garden of Wonders education program became a part of the school curriculum. A full-time AmeriCorps volunteer served as the Food and Garden Coordinator, instructing the students in the vegetable garden, the native plant garden, and the kitchen classroom. AmeriCorps provided support for staffing the garden program for 6 years. In the fall of 2011, Abernethy was able to raise the funds to hire a contracted garden teacher 37 hours/week. A contracted garden program coordinator serves as liaison between the many moving parts of the program.
Because of Abernethy’s commitment to teach children about local, seasonal and sustainable foods, Portland Public School’s Nutrition Services committed to reviving the Abernethy on-site kitchen for preparing and serving students breakfast and lunch, cooked from scratch, on a daily basis in 2005. This demonstration project is providing Nutrition Services with data to address the challenges and benefits of running an on-site kitchen.
The garden program and scratch kitchen are parts of a unique wellness policy at Abernethy. A full-time physical education teacher encourages the students to enjoy physical activity. Enthusiastic parents walk and bike their kids to school rather then driving. Parents and staff organize a yearly bike-a-thon to raise money for the school that allows Abernethy students to ride bikes and scooters on car-free streets.
Former Abernethy chef Chef Nicole and former Garden Coordinator Sarah Sullivan run five weeks of summer camps at the school, where they teach everything from pickling to pasta making, permaculture and organic bio-intensive gardening.
Abernethy’s kitchen has been the Portland Public School (PPS) District’s “demonstration kitchen,” and for several years, Abernethy created many recipes and menu items that were adopted in schools across the city. The school’s groundbreaking program started in 2005, when Garden of Wonders founder Linda Colwell worked with Portland Public School Nutrition Services (PPS NS) to upgrade the Abernethy kitchen by installing a working stove — a rarity for public school kitchens across the country.
Since the program was founded in 2005, parents and students noticed Abernethy students eating more and more fresh, whole foods at school and at home. Abernethy’s students are now fans of the more adventurous daily dishes prepared by Chef Nina, including chicken Panang curry, falafel with riata, hummus and pita, and garden-harvest veggie soup. The number of Abernethy students buying hot lunch over the past four years has more than doubled, a testimony to the success of the integrated kitchen and garden program.
I took my son to the grocery store and he asked me to buy him something. I assumed it would be candy, or ice cream. But instead he led me to the produce aisle and requested Brussels sprouts with our dinner that night! Amazing! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Former chef Nicole Hoffman worked closely with PPS NS to create interesting recipes meeting USDA requirements and that can be prepared with the $1.18 per meal that is currently allocated to pay for student food. Together they have focused on sourcing better “staple” ingredients. For example, all wheat used in meals is grown locally by Shepherds Grain Flour; beans and grains are grown by farmers in the nearby Willamette Valley; and yogurt is made in Eugene, Oregon.
Abernethy’s Cafeteria was also the stepping-stone to farm-to-school purchasing. PPS’ “Harvest of the Month” program began in 2007 and is now a regular feature on PPS menus. With the addition of Local Flavors promotions, Portland now purchases about 30% of current foods from the local region.
In a 2012 report Portland Public School Nutrition Services announced:
The award-winning Abernethy model is now ready to be taken to scale if additional resources are made available. A district-wide pilot program will instruct and inspire institutionalization of farm-to-school concepts across Oregon and the country.
District-wide menu items developed or tested in the Abernethy demonstration kitchen:
1999 ● Program begins through largely volunteer efforts and small amounts of money ($1000 or less each year) supplied through the Edwards PTA, Slow Food Portland and Chef’s Collaborative.
2001 ● Linda Colwell applies for a Portland Schools Foundation grant in the amount of $9,312 to undertake a Strategic Plan for the Edwards school garden project. Input provided by teachers and community members. Strategic Plan included vision, mission, lesson plans, process for sustaining and growing the program and demonstrated value of a school garden/cooking curriculum.
2001 -2004 ● Garden programming continues, lead by parent volunteers and part-time AmeriCorps member at Edwards Elementary using Sewallcrest Community Garden space.
2005 ● Edwards merges with Abernethy. Upgrades to Abernethy kitchen completed and paid for by PPS district (PPS proper, not Nutrition Services) as part of the school merger. Principal Tammy Barron pays for fridge, range and new electrical outlet from Abernethy School budget to complete Garden Classroom. First year of full time Food & Garden Educator position through AmeriCorps (about $7500 at the time, paid by PTA). Curriculum, lesson plans and class scheduling format begin formalization. Garden space builds on foundation of EMS site through $2000 grant from the Irwin Foundation in 2005, community funds and small grants.
2005-2006 ● Ecotrust applied for funding to do an assessment of the Scratch Kitchen Pilot Project. Jill Kuehler worked with Ecotrust, in her position as Wellness Coordinator, to help with the research for the report. Ecotrust did apply, and was declined, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to do this research.
2004-2006 ● FEED Grant through Portland State University, $8000 over two years – Teacher release time to allow for teacher garden involvement. Funds for garden development. Funds for graduate student time to work on the project. Link to PSU.
2006 ● OHSU, Injury Free Coalition for Kids and Abernethy participate in Obesity Research Grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Linda connected the research at OHSU and IFCK with Abernethy. This grant was written and headed by OHSU. This brought $60,000 toward Abernethy which contributed to James’ externship in the kitchen ($8500), Jill’s position as Wellness Coordinator (.75 FTE January 2006 to June 2007), Phil Engle (OHSU/Jill’s Boss .20 FTE), Travel and Conference expenses for Jill & Phil, Teacher /School Wellness Day, Funding for PE programs and wellness, obesity assessments of Abernethy students (undertaken by OHSU as grant assessment tool). At the core, this was an obesity grant written by OHSU and IFCK using Abernethy as the research site for the grant. Jill’s position as Wellness Coordinator included the following on-site factors: Harvest of the Month, garden program oversight, linking PE and food, grant and program evaluation, fundraising and communications with partners and the district.
June 2007 ● OHSU program complete. Wellness Coordinator position is discontinued. Garden of Wonders (GOW) Committee is formed to provide leadership and funding for the program.
2008 ● PTA/GOW Committee match grant funds to create Program Coordinator position.
2008 ● PTA/GOW-Café Program work with PPSNS to get Abernethy designated as “demonstration kitchen” and begin new visioning and strategic planning process.
2008-2010 ● PTA and GOW committee raise funding to secure Americorps position (garden teacher) and part-time garden program coordinator
2010-2011 ● PTA and GOW committee raise funding for P2 (Professional placement) Americorps position at $19,000 for the 2011/2012 school year. Five weeks of summercamp help employ school Chef and garden staff during the summer.
2011/2012 ● PTA and GOW committee raise funding to hire garden teacher as a contracted position (37 hours/week) and part time garden-coordinator. Americorps position discontinued.
Fall 2011 ● KEEN Shoes donated $5,000
Fall 2012 ● Scotts Miracle Grow awards the garden program $10,000
● Slow Food / $13,000 / collectively
● Chef’s Collaborative / $5000 / over the early years
● Autzen Foundation / 2006 / $5000 / for the Plant of the Week Project (in Partnership with Ecotrust & PPS Nutrition Services as research)
● Charlotte Martin Foundation / 2006 / $4000 / Greenhouse Project
● Lowe’s / 2008 / $4500 / Written for garden improvement, new fence and gardening tools