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Starting Out the Year with Gratitude

By Sam Taggart

As we embark together on our journey through 2015, I set sail with gratitude.

Gratitude for where I am right now, in this moment, and gratitude for everyone who helped me get here.

2014 brought with it many wonderful things – I graduated from college and began a year and a half-long fellowship program at the Allegheny Mountain Institute in Highland County, VA. I experienced six months of personal and botanical growth living a’top Allegheny Mountain learning about the many intersections between food and community. In November, I was fortunate enough to take a month to travel around Argentina and Uruguay, visiting dear old friends and making new ones along the way. To close out the year, I spent a lovely holiday at home in Arlington, giving me a chance to slow down and reflect on all that had happened over the past twelve months.

And now, here I am, about three weeks in to a new position at City Schoolyard Garden (CSG) in Charlottesville, VA as part of my Allegheny Mountain Institute Senior Fellowship. My colleagues here at CSG have welcomed me with such warmth and support and have taken the time to share with me the core values and principles that ground this inspiring organization. CSG is an organization with so much integrity and intentionality. Day-in and day-out, our organization works towards our mission to “cultivate academic achievement, health, environmental stewardship, and community engagement through garden-based, experiential learning.” And, for that, I am so grateful.

CSG colleagues working hard in the office!

Last week, CSG launched an exciting new program called Harvest of the Month: Garden to Table Snack Program across all six elementary schools in Charlottesville. Each month, the Harvest of the Month (HoM) program highlights a locally available crop by providing a fresh, healthy snack to students’ classrooms with accompanying learning activities and educational materials. The program aims to build life-long healthy living skills for Charlottesville youth by exploring, tasting, and learning about seasonal vegetables and fruits. The coordination and implementation of this program will be one of my main responsibilities at CSG this winter and spring. For that, I couldn’t be happier! I think it’s such a wonderful program.

 -Our CSG Garden Coordinator at Venable Elementary School, Jennifer Esser (far right), with the wonderful kitchen staff at Venable helping to launch City Schoolyard Garden’s new Harvest of the Month: Garden to Table Snack Program.

In addition to helping coordinate Harvest of the Month, I will also be working closely with all of CSG’s wonderful Garden Coordinators who organize programming at our six elementary school gardens. I have been meeting with each of them over the last few weeks to learn about what they’re up to in the garden this year and, let me tell you, they are certainly people to be thankful for! All of the elementary school gardens (and their programs) are unique in their own way, but here are a few projects to highlight: kickin’ afterschool garden clubs, historic Jeffersonian crop rotation techniques, garden-themed mosaics, wildlife habitat gardens, composting and vermin-composting, native and heirloom plant species, “First Peas to the Table” competition, pollinator gardens, rainwater catchment, and the list goes on. Too-cool-for-school you say? Thankfully, not for these schools!

And the list of what I’m feeling grateful for at the beginning of this year goes on as well…

I am grateful for the kindergarten (and subsequently fourth-grade) teacher who believed in experiential and project-based learning, teaching me and my classmates math outdoors with lessons quite out of the ordinary (such as designing our school’s garden or building mazes for crawling insects).

I am grateful for the singing teachers I’ve had throughout my life who introduced me to a language full of harmony and rhythm.

I am grateful for the college professors who taught me how important it is to look at issues from multiple perspectives, crisscrossing disciplines to reach true understanding.

I am grateful for my mom. She continues to teach me and inspire me in ways that I am only just beginning to understand.

I am grateful for a food movement rooted in justice and equality.

Community gardens that cultivate empowerment and love.

Children who aren’t afraid to get muddy.

Friends that support and affirm the work I do.

Strangers who smile.

Seeds that grow.

Winter sunshine.

Birds.

Mountains.

Worms.

The here.

The now.

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