Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Abby Rosenheck, Urban Sprouts, Interview Transcript

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I splurged and got the interviews I've been doing for my podcast transcribed by CastingWords, so I'll be posting an interview each day this week. Yesterday I posted the transcript from my interview with Ilyse Hogue of the Rainforest Action Network.

I like CastingWords overall. The service was super quick, but there have been a lot of spelling errors and some missed words, so I end up listening to the recording and reading along with the transcription once or twice before posting. Just an FYI for folks thinking about using it.

Now, here's my interview with Abby Rosenheck, founder and Executive Director of Urban Sprouts. You can hear the orginal podcast on Gcast, Odeo or iTunes.
Britt Bravo: Hi! Welcome to the Big Vision podcast where we talk with individuals and organizations who are creating positive change. My name is Britt Bravo and in today's show I will be talking with Abby Rosenheck, the founder and Executive Director of Urban Sprouts. Urban Sprouts is a school gardening program that serves low-income youth from San Fransico's underserved neighborhoods. Urban Sprouts teaches youth to grow, harvest, prepare, and eat vegetables from the school garden in order to help them to become more engaged in school, eat better, exercise more, and connect with the environment and each other.
Abby Rosenheck: Urban sprouts is a school garden program where we support middle and high schools in San Francisco to build school gardens at their school, so the students grow, prepare, eat--the whole thing. They grow food themselves that they can eat and share, and it's part of the Science and the PE classes so they are learning about environmental science. They're learning about health and nutrition; it's actually helping them to develop better eating habits and nutritional choices, and then, it's helping them to actually kind of use their new knowledge to change their behaviors so that they are actually becoming more environmentally responsible in their daily lives, taking it home--choosing to eat more vegetables more often in their lives. And then it also helps them succeed in school in other ways. It helps them engage more in learning and science and in health classes and also has a lot of other outcomes which we see: youth cooperating, learning, feeling more confident and strong, and able to make decisions and kind of run the garden themselves, things like that.
Britt Bravo: What does a typical class day look like?
Abby Rosenheck: When it's in science class, I go into the class and usually there's kind of a classroom piece where we do a lesson, usually something interactive where they are planting seeds or measuring the sugar in a beverage or something related to health or science, and then each day we go outside and do something in the garden: either garden work, or cooking and eating, harvesting from the garden. And then rainy days we'll do other things inside, but there will always be a part where they're actually doing gardening or eating the food each day.
Britt Bravo: What inspired you to start Urban Sprouts?
Abby Rosenheck: Well, its kind of a long journey, but I had worked on farms when I was a young person, both working as, helping on farms where I grew up (I grew up in a city) but there were nearby farms that would bring food into our neighborhood. And so, I was interested, and I started working and learning about organic farming and how different it was than other kinds of large scale agriculture that impacted the environment and also that wasn't a good livelihood for the people working there. And so I became interested; and really through other youth programs that I did that were nature-related and also through working on farms myself, it really impacted me as a young person, it made me feel connected to the world around me, to nature, and also to the people that I was working with, in a different way, that I didn't really feel in any other place in my life. So when I started looking for work and being a grown up, I really felt that this was something that could help other young people. I wanted to help a lot of people who, like me, had been in an urban setting where there isn't a lot of nature around (or doesn't seem like there is), but you can find nature in your own backyard, or at your school, where you can grow food.
Britt Bravo: What has been the biggest challenge of starting your own nonprofit?
Abby Rosenheck: Well its the, the hardest thing I think is just that there is not a lot of support for this kind of work, and that I had a lot of resources, a lot of people around me that could help me learn the different skills I needed (whether it was the gardening, the educational part, or the starting the nonprofit part, I had a lot of support in that way). But still, at the end of the day I would be working, working, making this happen, and still there would be this overwhelming feeling that so many people didn't get it. They didn't understand why school gardens were important, why public education was not working for a lot of young people and why you would dedicate your life to something that it just sounds small, and it sounds unimportant to a lot of people, especially in the sort of consumerist, fast-paced, urban-American lifestyle (even though, of course, a lot of people around me, particularly, would understand my work), I still felt that lack of understanding and respect and it would get me down at times. But being in the schools you can see the impact that it would have for the young people and the teachers too. So [that] kind of kept me energized.
Britt Bravo: What are other things that keep you motivated and energized to do this work?
Abby Rosenheck: I think a lot of it comes from my personal community: my friends and actually people like my fiancé who have . . .my work has actually has had the same impact on them, some of my friends, they eat more vegetables now. They understand why organic farming is important or why school gardens, why they should be a part of education. So I can feel things changing. I can feel them changing in my own circles, in my own family, so I have more support, and the biggest thing in the work itself has been my relationships with the teachers, and they've really come out. They've gotten all their networks involved, their friends and family caring about it, coming out to the garden, donating to Urban Sprouts, and really supporting us; and to see that that can really impact a school. So that keeps me excited as well as, of course, the kids, when you see them go from, "Ew! Dirt is gross, I don't want to touch that!" to wanting worms, wanting to see the dirt, wanting to smell and touch everything. They get so excited it's impossible not to be rejuvenated when you see them having fun out there.
Britt Bravo: Do you have any stories about how this work has impacted individual students' lives?
Abby Rosenheck: Well the thing that is really powerful is to see, we work with the special ed, the special day class, and those are the students who, I mean, since I started working at Luther Burbank Middle school, they had a new teacher and it was her first year teaching at all, and she took on the special day class, and it was like the hardest classroom you ever seen. The kids were everywhere, they're running around, they're cursing, they're throwing things, they're angry, they're upset, just everything coming out, and we would go out into the garden, and you would just see them relax, like just being outdoors, instead of in the classroom. And some of them had gardened before. Their parents were gardeners, their grandparents, and they were able to teach each other how to plant, how to be gentle, how to work together. You'd see them cooperating in a way they never did in the classroom, and I've worked with that same teacher and her group for the past three years. And the group changes somewhat, but there is a core of students who have been there; and to see the progress that they have made is incredible. I mean, their teacher is amazing. But the combination of what she's done, and what they've done in the garden has really--their class is just turned around. They can do so much now and they're so proud of their work in a way that they weren't before.
Britt Bravo: If someone wanted to start an urban garden program, what are some of the resources they can turn to and what are some of the small steps that they can take?
Abby Rosenheck: Well in San Francisco, people are pretty lucky because there is a good amount of training and resources out here: there's a compost educator gardening training that you can do. So you could actually learn, it's one of the few non-profits that trains people in how to teach others about gardening and composting. So there are a couple of trainings: there is one in Santa Cruz, there's one in Sonoma County that really prepare you with the basic gardening skills, and some even teach you about school gardens, particularly. So there's a pretty good amount in the Bay Area.

But for other people I think that there are--there is kind of a disconnect sometimes between schools and gardeners and the schools need a lot of support (it's more than a teacher can do on their own). So I've heard of a lot of connections between local garden clubs, master gardeners, farmers, some schools will start with field trips to local farms. So if you're interested, I would say start as a school volunteer and connect with some teachers that might be interested in this and help connect them with gardening resources or gardening clubs, horticulturists in your town that can help you really start to build. It takes a lot of volunteers to do the building, to do the planning, to come to school and have a lot of adults in school, but I think most teachers get really excited about it pretty easily.
Britt Bravo: And are there any books or websites people can use as a resource?
Abby Rosenheck: Well actually on our blog we have a pretty good list of those resources. Lifelab is a group that has been doing this for a long time. They publish curriculum and books. There is a curriculum called "Nutrition to Grow On." that's published by the California Department of Education, that's really good, and the California School Garden Network just came out with a new web site that has all kinds of curriculum resources, all the trainings in the area. It has links to a lot of the research that's coming up because more people are starting to do more research in this area and different kind of graduate students are doing it, and policies that have come out affecting school food and nutrition, they've got all that on their website. That's a good one which you can find on our blog.
Britt Bravo: You were saying earlier that sometimes people don't understand why school gardens are important. If you could tell them why they are important, what would you say?
Abby Rosenheck: Well sort of in a technical way we talk about it influencing schools in four areas: one is health and nutrition, one is eco-literacy (which goes beyond environmental knowledge and awareness to really making change in your life in terms of environmental responsibility) and then youth development, helping young people build new skills and assets inside themselves in different ways, and then academic achievement. And we've kind of created, working with researchers, a model that really shows the different ways these things are happening in different parts of the program so all the things that you need to set up a school garden in order to set the stage for all of these benefits.
Britt Bravo: Thanks for listening to the Big Vision podcast. For more information about Urban Sprouts, go to the Urban Sprouts website at urbansprouts.org, and their blog urbansprouts.blogspot.com. and if you liked the opening music it was an excerpt from Kenya Masala's Mango Delight. You can learn more about Kenya's work and his music by going to sourcecounsultinggroup.com. Finally, if you want more information about Big Vision Career and Project Consulting you can check out my website at brittbravo.com. Thanks for listening.







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