Not Your Ordinary PTA Mom: How One After-School PTA Program Turned An Old Trope On Its Head
A few weeks ago my son Jackson came running toward me at school dismissal with a huge green onion in his hands. “We can cook this tonight,” he shouted joyfully as he swung the gangly vegetable above his shock of strawberry blonde hair. And then, from his pocket, Jackson revealed three cloves of garlic. “We went to the farm today. It was harvest day for my class.”
That night as I prepared dinner, I used the garlic in the marinara sauce. I put the raw verdant circlets from the onion in our salad. Jackson, a precocious 7 year old, noted that the garlic “livened up” the meal. At one point, as Jackson picked through his salad, he popped a piece of the green onion in his mouth. His face spoke otherwise but Jackson maintained his composure and announced, “It tastes so fresh. Right out of the garden.”
If that onion had been from the grocery store, Jackson wouldn’t have touched it. He would have eaten enough of his pasta to negotiate a dessert. But because Jackson grew that food with his class, he appreciated it. They worked the soil, planted the seeds, watched sprouts rise up from black earth, and tended their garden until it was ready to consume.
The Moss Haven Farm is a treasure in our community. With 48 raised beds, a rainwater harvest system, a custom chicken coop, and a sitting area for group discussion carved out of tree stumps, it’s no wonder that this farm has become the gold standard of school farms in North Texas.
This wildly successful school farm started as an after-school program. Kim Aman, a classroom teacher, along with the Garden Committee, used PTA funds to build 20 raised beds, a water tank, and a barn storage unit. A seventh generation farmer and avid gardener, Ms. Aman volunteered her time at first. “I have always loved taking my classes out to work and learn, so I jumped at the opportunity of creating an outside learning space,” she recounted.
Student interest in the after-school farm program skyrocketed and classroom teacher Ms. Aman transitioned to Farmer Aman. After school enrichment became in-school instruction following the Texas state standards for STEM education.
And while Kim Aman is now the Farm Director and remains a key player in this endeavour, there are many women who make the farm happen. The female positioning in the history the school farm is the hallmark of the farm and showcases the strength of the community. There is, in a sense, a “village” of women who have come together to establish, maintain, and build the future.
Tiffany Walker, head of the Farm Board, notes that the farm’s longevity and impact is “directly tied to the volunteer Farm Board, dedicated Farm Director, and the many small and big ways the community makes contributions that strengthen the farm’s roots.” The Farm Board is made up entirely of women. It meets monthly and oversees budgets, writes grants, assembles service days, manages after-school and summer camp opportunities, and organizes events like Peep the Coops, a community-wide tour of urban chicken coops in East Dallas.
Funding for the school farm does not come from the school as one would expect. Moss Haven’s PTA, a separate entity from the school, provides over half the funding for the farm. The rest comes from grants, personal donations, and summer camp revenue.
The PTA holds several fundraisers throughout the year, the biggest of which is a themed auction. Last year, this auction raised over 160K for Moss Haven Elementary and provided just over half the funding for the farm. There is a strong female presence in the PTA too. Of course there are amazing dads who volunteer but the PTA Executive Board is all female and the Auction Chairs, responsible for gathering solicitations and putting on a large scale event, are women.
Students visit the farm on a weekly basis and there the teacher connects agricultural learning to science objectives. But the farm “classroom” has ubiquitous effects back inside the school building. Jackson’s teacher, Megan Grizzaffi, told me “We are constantly referring back to experiences on the farm.”
Students make connections in literature and even social studies. Ms. Grizzaffi explained that her first graders are learning about how different communities “grow crops for food, but others might not have good weather or soil to grow crops.” Her class connected this concept to the selection of crops and seasonality of planting for optimal results here in Dallas.
On Fridays, students visit the salad bar during lunch and assemble part of their meals with vegetables from the farm. When they finish lunch everyday, students as young as kindergarten know to discard uneaten organic materials in the compost bins. Sixth graders brought their herbs to the farmers’ market last year and learned about basic tenants of business. All surplus from the farm goes to the North Texas Food Bank–about 2,000 lbs at this point.
In film, television, and zeitgeist, PTA moms are caricatured as harried women in yoga pants with messy minivans and too many activities. Or they are portrayed as type-A women in Chanel flats, fueled by Diet Coke and ambitions of being the biggest fish in the tiny pond. You just don’t see this at Moss Haven’s farm. The farm has an attitude that says, “Come as you are. Help when and where you can. Your talents are needed and appreciated.” The fruits of that attitude can be seen in grants from big companies, rising property values, and first place ribbons at the Texas State Fair (a big deal for city kids!).
The current culture of parenting is characterized individuality. Each parent raises his/her child(ren) his/her own way. Each parent knows what’s best for his/her own family. And that’s a good thing. But the beauty of creating and investing in community can get lost in that mindset.
Not at Moss Haven Elementary. This community raises its kids together–in partnership with each other, with teachers, and even with nature. I see the benefits of the farm everyday. Because of Jackson’s experience gardening and caring for the chickens on the Moss Haven Farm, he’s more mindful of the world around him. It’s remarkable to see a 7-year-old became a conscious steward of his body and gain respect nature.
By Kristin Sample
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