The Edible Acre is a vibrant community garden adjacent to Evanston Township High School (ETHS). The 5,000-square-foot plot, often tangled with tomato vines, piled with spinach leaves, or blanketed by carrot tops, sends all of its produce directly to ETHS students. When it comes to nutrition services, ETHS has differentiated itself from similar gargantuan educational institutions by becoming the pilot school for the FarmLogix Local Sourcing Program, an online tool that facilitates local food sourcing. The term ‘local,’ however, takes on a whole new meaning when plants are visible from the school’s main entrance.
Built in 2009, the Edible Acre is a joint initiative by The Talking Farm and ETHS. It was originally constructed and maintained by groups of students from the horticulture class, Senior Studies, Community Service Club, and Green Team. Upon reevaluating the project in 2012, Kim Minestra, now director of nutrition services, decided it was time to push it further. So she enlisted Matt Ryan, the Farm Manager at The Talking Farm.
“I realized that there was just more potential so I worked with Matt to create a crop plan so we could get as much harvest out of it as possible,” says Minestra.
Since then, the Edible Acre has expanded considerably. 5,500 pounds of fresh, organic produce was harvested and served in ETHS cafeterias between 2012 and 2014, and a whopping 2,800 pounds were produced in 2015 alone. The collaboration has also grown to include the use of the ETHS greenhouse where seedlings are planted in the spring and summer, and herbs and greens grow during colder months. Last fall, an orchard of 55 fruit trees was planted on the north side of the school. Plans to add another 20-30 trees to the orchard this year are in the works.
Kim hopes a second garden will eventually be built to further increase the size and diversity of the harvests, but that process is still in early planning stages.
“I know a lot of schools are like, ‘How do you do this? We don’t have the labor, we don’t have the time, we don’t have the money,’ and its really because we are lucky to have The Talking Farm local and wanting to do it,” says Minestra.
Providing fresh, healthy food to as many people as we can, and utilizing community-based agriculture as a means of education are two of our primary ambitions at The Talking Farm. The Edible Acre project embodies both of these goals.