Turns out that some of the coolest stuff is happening to connect people to where food comes from—especially in New Orleans and Helsinki. So much so that Richard McCarthy, Board Member of Edible School Yard and (farmers’) Market Umbrella, and Bonnie Goldblum, community garden activist and travel blogger for 1wrongturn.com, traveled here to network and learn. And, of course, to eat and have fun.
It’s not actually very surprising that learning to raise your own food has long been part of Finnish school curricula. We went to visit Kumpula, the oldest school garden in Helsinki (since 1922—happy 100th anniversary!—when it began as a philanthropic effort to help working class families in times of food scarcity), with School Garden Coordinator, Janne Länsipuro, and some wonderful teachers and kids.
It was sort of a dream world. A huge field was sectioned off for different teams of kids to plan what food to plant where. Along the way, they are told about companion planting—plants that like the same kind of soil and water and light and that support each other. Then the kids try to figure out areas of their allotment where those plants can live together. They draw up a garden plan and divide up the work to get it done.
Then there is garden art that can happen.
A huge part of the property—which is totally enclosed by fencing but you would never know it—has been left wooded and the place is magical. When the young farmers have had enough sun, they can head into the woods. We found mysterious ‘made’ objects and symbols along tiny trails that were part of secret communication and games that develop over the course of weeks together in sunny fields and shady forests.
Richard McCarthy addressed the group of teachers and local farmers to explain how New Orleans has found that local food is a topic that brings very diverse groups of people together. Parents who never visit schools are actually delighted to visit the garden of The Edible School Yard and often end up getting involved and volunteering for the first time in their lives.
Richard deeply inspired everyone about how growing healthy local food and buying and eating healthy local food ripples out to health for our whole little garden planet.
In a day full of delight, one of the highlights was seeing my husband get time away from a crushing construction schedule to commune a bit…
For lunch, we all descended upon Dodos’ Kääntöpöyta or Turntable restaurant, housed in a relic of train equipment refashioned into a greenhouse. We had a wonderful soup, bread and even dessert—all with ingredients from the greenhouse, sack garden or foraged from the woodlands around the train tracks.
Great thanks to Janne Länsipuro, Richard McCarthy and the whole group, including the kid farmers, for the wonderful work that each is contributing. And here’s hoping that in my next life I can come back as one of those kids in the Kumpula school garden program!
Cody Douglas Oreck
U.S. Embassy Helsinki