In collaboration with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Iowa (BGCCI), ambitious Drake University seniors are paving the way for community partnership and environmental sustainability by establishing a Des Moines Urban Youth Learning Garden on campus.
This momentous feat is owed to the collaboration of a handful of people that have put a lot of time and effort into making it happen. Funded by the State Farm grant, a total of $44,544 will go toward the creation of the garden to be erected at the corner of 25th Street and Forest Avenue. It is designated to create a holistic learning space for elementary to college-aged students. It will encourage engagement in environmental, and health and urban gardening education.
“The idea of a campus garden for the students and community has been floating around the environmental science and policy department at least since I started at Drake in 2008,” Matthew Prather said. Prather is one of the seniors who helped to write the grant, “The idea had been turned down multiple times because of various reasons.”
The project originated in the environmental science and policy capstone course. Prather collaborated with senior classmates Cara Pratt, April Hansen and Rachael Stern to write the grant. When met with the decision of working with a summer camp or a community group, they decided to explore local options.
“We came to the conclusion that incorporating a new community garden around Drake’s campus into an existing program would be the most useful and achievable option,” Prather said. “We then had to find an after school program which was near Drake and ended up choosing the Boys and Girls Club because of its close location and ties to Drake.”
The project became a joint undertaking. Boys & Girls Club of Central Iowa Unit Director, Lucia Leydens said, “The students that wrote the grant did a great job of including us into their plan.”
The funds for the garden come from the State Farm grant. The allocation of these grants are decided upon by the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, which is comprised of 30 students, ages 17 to 20, across the United States and Canada “charged with helping State Farm design and implement a $5 million-a-year signature service-learning initiative to address issues important to State Farm and communities across the United States and Canada,” according to their website.
Once in place, the garden will serve as a collaborative learning environment for students of all ages.
“The aim of the garden is to give students at the Boys & Girls Club, and hopefully in the future more groups, the opportunity to connect with Drake students and also give Drake University a deeper connection to the surrounding neighborhood and low income students,” Prather said. “The aim is also to educate these kids early on about environmental sustainability, responsibility and other areas while giving them an outdoor area where they can put some of the things they learn into practice.”
The BGCCI is excited to strengthen their current, somewhat unstable, program.
“This will not only help us implement a stronger healthy eating and environmental education program but also bridge the gap between the university and our organization,” Leydens said. “This also gives the kids some ownership in the community. We have done some gardening in the past, but had inconsistent volunteers and helpers. Having a program with structure and the kids being able to be a part of the process brings great value to what we are all hoping to accomplish.”
The BGCCI has numerous opportunities for students looking to help out.
“We love having volunteers,” Leydens said. “We have them help in our programs, some lead their own programs, chess or yoga for example, help prepare meals or come and help with special events. We try to match the volunteers with their interests.”
As the development of the garden progresses and grows, so will the relationship between the BGCCI and Drake. The garden will embrace learning outside of the classroom from all generations, economic statuses and racial backgrounds. Prather has high hopes for the garden.
“Overall, I think it will be a great addition to Drake, the Boys and Girls Club and the community, and hopefully, it can be used as a model for other schools to follow in the future,” Prather said.