By: Sara Langworthy, Judy Myers, and Nora Fox
Despite a rainy, chilly evening, and initial uncertainty from early arrivals, it didn’t take long for an electric buzz to fill the Bruce Vento Elementary School cafeteria on Thursday evening, May 14. Over 200 people including families, children, community members, and school staff gathered to share great food, abundant conversation, and opinions about what should grow in the Bruce Vento school and community garden this summer.
“How many of you want to plant this vegetable in your school garden?” asked Marnita Shroedl of Marnita’s Table while holding up bright red and yellow bell peppers.
Hands of excited students, parents, teachers, and community members shot into the air, eager to vote for the fruits, vegetables, and herbs they wanted to see planted in their school community garden. Nearby, attendees talked with other parents or community members they’ve never met before while enjoying the taco bar and Thai food provided by local Saint Paul restaurants. Youth from nearby Washington Technology Magnet School bustled back and forth serving as kitchen assistants, clean up crews, and beverage station attendants. Local interpreters assisted many Karen, Hmong, and Latino families feel comfortable communicating across language barriers.
In short, everyone was welcome at the table to share, eat, and enjoy the company of their community. Marnita’sTable works to break down barriers of race, class and culture and build positive, productive relationships in communities. Their vision is simple though not easy:
Through intent, we cut across traditional boundaries of ethnic, cultural, religious, or sexual identity, as well as educational or socio-economic status, and find common ground — always while breaking bread.
In addition to building new relationships across these traditional boundaries, one of the goals of Thursday’s event was to recruit a handful of people to volunteer to help care for the school garden over the summer months when school is not in session. With over 30 parent, staff, and neighborhood volunteers willing to share their gifts and time, we know the garden will be well cared for, and will serve as bountiful space for health and wellness all summer long.
In addition, many families said they felt welcome, enjoyed the good food, and were eager to help in the garden. One person shared: “I enjoyed the whole experience and everyone was so welcoming to our family. The food was awesome, and I think that growing a garden for the community will be a good learning experience for all.”
This energy, passion and excitement about community growth is a hallmark of community-engaged work, and we at the Children, Youth, and Family Consortium are honored to be a small part of it. As the Marnita’s Table vision explains, “by conscious process, we create enduring relationships.”
Seeds of those enduring relationships were planted last Thursday. And we’re excited to see how they grow over the summer and the many seasons to come.
If you want to learn more about the great work happening at Bruce Vento Elementary School and how you can be involved, check out our project website. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@CYFCumn) and subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Learners is an ongoing partnership between the Extension Children, Youth, and Family Consortium and the Bruce Vento Elementary School. Together, along with many other partners, we are developing engaging learning environments that promote student learning and wellness.