Slow Food South Texas builds second school garden project in SAISD at Bonham Academy

Before beans and corn got hijacked, fried in lard, and turned into cheese-slathered tacos, Native Americans in both continents cultivated the two together, along with squash, as part of a nutritious diet and a healthy garden.

Food educators with Slow Food South Texas and parent volunteers at Bonham Academy at 925 S. St. Mary's Street have forged a partnership to teach students about the three crops – known collectively as “the three sisters” – as well as other healthy eating and gardening practices.

“They are symbiotic plants, meaning what one plant needs, another plant has and puts back into the soil,” said Susan Rigg, the president of Slow Food South Texas. “You grow the corn up and the bean vines grow up the corn and the squash grows on the ground around it. It’s something the Native Americans have done for centuries. It’s cultural, as well as scientific.”

On Saturday, three dozen Slow Food and Bonham volunteers prepared the ground and pounded cinder block together to create a new planting bed for the three sisters, and worked on the school’s previously existing garden.


Slow Food educators and parent volunteers will be coming to Bonham every Thursday to teach children in pre-kindergarten through second grade about the scientific, cultural and health aspects of growing vegetables.

“There’s a lot of evidence that shows that children who grow their own vegetables and know where their food comes from have better nutritional outcomes,” said Judit Vega, who coordinates the city of San Antonio’s diabetes project and whose son Asiko, is in fourth grade at Bonham.

Vega said education campaigns that target children can be effective in reaching parents, as well.

“The smoking campaigns worked in the schools because then children went home and talked to their parents about smoking,” Vega said. “So maybe it can help with health and nutrition.”

(Watch a video produced by Antonio Rodriguez with a broader explanation of Slow Food.)

Through May 17, students will be learning about grains and vegetables, the plant life cycle, bugs and worms, seasonality, the water cycle, composting and recycling, and other aspects of gardening.

Rigg said the local curriculum is modeled on the Edible Schoolyard program created by renowned chef and Slow Food leader Alice Waters, who owns Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Waters forged a working relationship with educators at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley in 1995 and started a garden project that continues to thrive today.

Kindergarten teacher Blanca Gebhart said the organized curriculum and the hands-on, gardening approach will help bring scientific concepts to life for the young students she teaches.

“Kids at that age learn by doing,” Gebhart said. “And it’s fun coming out here and bringing them out to the garden. They think they’re just out here playing and having fun, when in essence they are actually learning.”

With as many as 22 kindergarten students in kindergarten classrooms, Gebhart said volunteers coming to the school help to make outdoor learning possible.

“As a teacher, I can tell you that it’s really hard for me to take my kids out there and to do it alone,” Gebhart said. “So, when we have organizations like Slow Food, or when we have parents come help us, it makes our jobs easier. And we can increase the number of opportunities for our kids to come out and gather information about the great outdoors.”

Bonham parent and Slow Food volunteer, Veronica Ramirez, asked Rigg to help bring the school’s garden back to life, after having volunteered for several weeks at Lamar Elementary, the Slow Food South Texas chapter’s first school garden.

“I started working with Slow Food so I could bring Slow Food to Bonham,” said Ramirez, whose son Marcelo is in first grade, and whose daughter Aysia is in sixth grade at Bonham. “I want the children to be able to connect the dots, metaphorically speaking. When they plant a seed, I want them to experience – if their parents don’t already garden at home – to see that a tiny seed will turn into a carrot or lettuce that they can eat raw or a tomato they can chop up.”

Parents that want to bring Slow Food to their school campus should follow Ramirez’s lead, Rigg said.

“What it takes is it takes is at least one dedicated parent to come and get involved,” Rigg said. “Volunteer. Come to the meetings. That’s how it happens.”

Disclosure: Analisa has a child who attends Bonham Academy.