By: Taylor Johnson
When was the last time you saw a police officer picking beans in a school garden?
At Bruce Vento Elementary School in St. Paul, where staff from University of Minnesota Extension's Children, Youth, and Family Consortium (CYFC) have been working since 2014, this is a common sight. The Saint Paul Police Department regularly staffs the Bruce Vento school and community garden with police officers. These officers not only help tend the garden, but also engage with members of the community to get them involved in gardening.
|Officer Mon Nottakun at the school garden.|
The partnership between Bruce Vento and the police department materialized when one of CYFC’s project partners, Marnita Schroedl of Marnita’s Table, informed Police Chief Tom Smith of the school garden project. Police Chief Smith saw the project as a great community building opportunity and began to staff the garden regularly with his officers. This decision led to many positive interactions between police officers and community members.
For example, Officer Cindy Rost has visited the garden several times, each time dressed in uniform, and seeks out children in the neighborhood that are willing to help her care for the garden.
|Officer Cindy Rost and a child from the neighborhood pick (and sample!) green beans.|
On one of her trips, she was able to engage three young children from the community by teaching them about the vegetables in the garden. Rost recounts her recent experience:
I gave them brown paper bags and helped them pick some peas and beans and a zucchini. They were eating them as we picked them. They loved it and the veggies... The kids were excited about the corn and cannot wait to pick it.
More recently, Officer Rost saw a teenage girl walking home from summer school and encouraged her to come help pick green beans. The girl had never picked vegetables before and was amazed and interested in learning about vegetable gardens. Rost reflected: “I forget that [these kids] have never done this before and this is a new experience for them.”
Our hope is that there will be many more similar interactions as police officers continue to support the garden throughout the last few weeks of summer.
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.