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SAISD announces $57,000 USDA grant award to all-girl primary school - full details
Aug. 8, 2022 – San Antonio ISD announced today that its Young Women’s Leadership Academy-Primary campus received a federal grant. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service has selected YWLA-Primary to receive a Farm to School Turnkey Edible Gardens Grant. The total amount of the federal award is $57,404, which includes a cost-share grant from the San Antonio Area Foundation of $17,500. 

The grant will fund the YWLA-Primary and Gardopia Gardens edible garden project, called the Smart Farm, which launched last year and already has put more than 500 pounds of fresh produce into the hands of the students, their families, and the community. 

According to the USDA grant award letter, one of the reasons YWLA-Primary’s application stood out was because it demonstrated “strong experience and readiness to conduct farm to school initiatives.”

“Last year we had the opportunity to work alongside Gardopia Gardens to see the vision for our school garden begin to come to fruition,” YWLA-Primary principal Jennifer Elwood said. “With the support of the USDA grant, our girls will be able to continue learning about the importance of growing their own food for sustainability, integrate food education into our cafeteria, and give back to the community.”

YWLA-Primary students and staff broke ground on the Smart Farm last fall in collaboration with San Antonio nonprofit Gardopia Gardens, the City of San Antonio’s Office of Innovation and Parks and Recreation, San Antonio Sports, and Santikos Theater. The Smart Farm includes a half-acre garden in the school courtyard and a 1.5-acre farm located in Page Park. To date, the collaboration already has led to the creation of 12 raised beds, two pollinator gardens, a 100-tree fruit orchard, a small greenhouse, and three emerging production fields. The school hosted five Family Garden Days to involve the community, with six more scheduled in 2022-2023.

“This project, barely one calendar year old, has already impacted thousands of participants, including students, parents, teachers, and local volunteer organizations such as college students and veterans,” Brian Dillard, City of San Antonio Chief Innovation Officer, said in a letter of support for the project. “Urban agriculture is a popular community activity that connects people to their culture, encourages outdoor gathering, gets people physically active, and increases access to fresh organic produce. The vision of this project will transform an underutilized park into an oasis of local organic food for the community.”

There are academic benefits as well. As part of the grant, a total of 96 garden-based-learning classes will take place during the YWLA-Primary school day, which will include how to grow produce in the fall, winter and spring growing seasons. 

“Garden-based learning is a multidisciplinary approach to project-based learning that implements various STEM fields directly tied to TEKS, 21st-century workforce skills, and social-emotional learning,” Stephen Lucke, CEO of Gardopia Gardens, said. “From basic math to advanced chemistry and computer software, urban agriculture is at the cutting edge of engaging students with real-world problems. The lessons learned in the garden and farm translate directly to improved classroom performance, healthy lifestyles, and mental health, in addition to creating skills that will be retained for a lifetime.”

Throughout the year, local chefs and cooks will come to the campus to teach the students how to prepare fresh produce from the garden. These cooking demonstrations will help students understand food processing, farm-to-table initiatives, and expand their taste palate to consume healthier diets. 

The USDA awarded more than $10 million in Farm to School Grants to 123 projects across the country. This year’s competitive grants will serve more than 3 million children at more than 5,000 schools in 44 states and the District of Columbia, including SAISD’s YWLA-Primary.


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