SustainAbility: Wingate Garden Festival

The Wingate Garden Festival might have been a bust when the well-known speaker canceled because of a family emergency. Luckily, technology saved the day as the community rallied in support of the Wingate Elementary School garden.

Chef Ann Cooper, best known as The Renegade Lunch Lady, made a virtual appearance in a passionate educational video presented to a standing room-only crowd of 130 people at the festival, which included booths, a healthy assortment of food, door prizes and musical entertainment provided by the Redlands Middle School jazz band.

Cooper also answered questions after the presentation through the magic of Skype.

Director of nutrition services for the Boulder Valley School District, Cooper is an author, educator and founder of the Food, Family, Farming Foundation.

She sees school gardens as important classrooms that help kids learn where their food comes from. There are 14 school gardens in her district.

Proceeds from the benefit, about $2,000, will be used to support the edible, organic garden at Wingate.

According to Wingate’s Principal Carol Wethington, the garden began when two moms shared a vision of a cafeteria that provides kids with healthy lunches.

Those moms are Monica Cullinane and Heather Gerson, who decided a garden was one way to turn their vision into reality. Diane Condiles, Teresa Keating and Julie Tierney joined the committee and the project rapidly took shape.

Last spring, one raised bed was built and planted. Interns from Cameron Place Community Supported Agriculture helped with the garden and made sure each classroom learned about the importance of soil.

Cameron Place also helped raise several hundred dollars for the garden project by donating leftover vegetables for a special farmers market at the school.

This year, four more beds were built. Students got to choose what they wanted to grow and planted the seeds. As the garden grows, kids are getting their hands dirty and taking ownership. It is an excellent way to sneak in some science and a smattering of other subjects as well.

Principal Wethington and the committee are hopeful the garden will soon be financially self-sufficient and supply some fresh veggies to the cafeteria within five years.

The Wingate garden has become a community effort involving many parents and the Parent Teacher Association, with WD Yards installing the irrigation system. In fact, Melanie Sawyer, event coordinator for the Wingate Garden Festival, isn’t even a Wingate parent.

Cooper shares this community group’s vision of healthy cafeteria food stating, “Nothing is more important than our kids.”

She linked poor nutrition to childhood obesity rates and other health problems such as diabetes. The lack of nutritious food is a social justice issue, according to Cooper.

“The government is not going to solve this problem for us,” she said.

“We have given away the nurture of our children to the profit of big corporations,” she said.

The emphasis should not be solely on profit but on a triple bottom line including people, profit and planet.

She advocates for a sustainable food system. Changes in society have led to a situation where the United States has more prisoners than farmers. We have forgotten that real food consists of fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains and healthy proteins.

Cooper is campaigning for a salad bar in every school cafeteria that would go a long way in the battle for good nutrition. This concept is so important that her foundation supplies funds to establish salad bars in schools.

The foundation also offers The Lunch Box, a free platform promoting Healthy Tools to Help All Schools. The platform is available at

In Cooper’s district, the School Food Project combines regional, locally grown food with education. To encourage high school students to learn more about nutrition, she hosts an Iron Chef competition.

Wethington said School District 51 has been supportive of the effort at Wingate and is moving in the direction of more nutritious lunches. One of those steps is improving farm-to-school connections with vendors.

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Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? E-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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