Rachel Kraus is an AmeriCorps service member with FoodCorps, a nationwide team of leaders who connect kids to real food in school. You can find out more about it at www.foodcorps.org. Lifeway is a member of the FoodCorps Corporate Council and its support helps make Rachel’s position possible. You can read more about our partnership with FoodCorps here.
When FoodCorps service member Rachel Kraus looked up at the high tunnel in the garden courtyard of Bayyari Elementary School on a brisk January day, she could not believe it was finally near completion. She had been tasked with the project when she first set foot in the garden in September 2014. Now, 13 months later, the tunnel was nearly ready to shelter the fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs she and her students would soon be growing together.
Bayyari Elementary School, a pre-K through fifth grade school in the tight-knit community of Springdale, Arkansas, fits snugly within the surrounding subdivision of small homes and duplexes. Creating an overarching culture of health is front and center in providing the best possible foundation for students at the school. And this mandate is particularly important for Bayyari Elementary students. The city’s Growing Healthy Communities Committee has identified the area as a food desert due to a lack of any location to purchase healthy food in the school’s attendance radius.
For the past year and a half, Rachel has been a FoodCorps service member at Bayyari Elementary alongside a team of teachers and administrators who are passionate about student learning and well-being. Her AmeriCorps service centers on managing the school garden, teaching standards-based gardening and cooking lessons, and collaborating with the food service staff and local farmers to expand and develop a Harvest of the Month program in order to get kids excited about healthier food options.
“My first year as a service member with FoodCorps was a whirlwind,” she explains. “I consider it a perfect mix of ﬁnding my bearings, picking my battles, and doing the small things I am capable of. I have found myself in many challenging situations, but nearly always, I am fulﬁlled at the end of the day.”
One such challenge Rachel faced was building the high tunnel, a 930 square foot garden space enclosed by heavy greenhouse plastic that offers an extended growing season. The challenge did not only present itself during construction, but also in deciding where to put it and acquiring the approval to do so.
After many conversations with farmers and specialists in the area, deliberating over factors such as wind, sunlight, protection, and accessibility, and checking and rechecking underground utility lines, it looked like the best place for the high tunnel would be exactly where an existing butterfly garden was located. Rachel faced the task of relocating the entire garden—dirt, stones, and very established plants—to a different location. With the help of students, teachers, and volunteers from the University of Arkansas, this was accomplished before the heat of the summer last year.
“When I experience a victory, it gives me the encouragement I need to continue my service with an eager heart.”
This past November, ground was broken and the construction of the high tunnel began. In January, it was outfitted with irrigated raised beds, mulched pathways, tables, and composters. The finishing touches are expected to be completed by the end of this month.
“The high tunnel is going to make garden based education during the school year much more feasible for our teachers,” Rachel explains. “The kids will benefit because they will be able to continue with hands-on learning experiences in the garden year-round and our garden will benefit because we can get an earlier start on planting.”
Although building the high tunnel was a big challenge to overcome, it is only one small piece of Rachel’s FoodCorps service.
“When I experience a victory, it gives me the encouragement I need to continue my service with an eager heart,” she shares. “Small victories, like convincing one child to try cabbage, and large ones, like a successful community garden workday, have shown me what I am capable of and given me the desire to do better.”