In 2014, a group comprised of high school students, teachers, a retired State Senator and community members embarked on a mission to establish a community garden that would teach students about healthy eating and create a small enterprise or Mercado (Market) where students would learn basic business principles such as Marketing, Sales and Advertising. As the project grew, more goals were added:
Out of this ambitious project grew yet another idea to establish a scholarship fund by using the sale of garden produce as a social enterprise. So far, the scholarship fund has supported four Bowie High graduates who are currently attending college thanks to this project.
Since the garden was designed for students to take responsibility for planning, planting, weeding and harvesting each individual plot followed by picking, processing, marketing and selling the produce, they were enthusiastic about learning and eager to work. Teachers and school administrators noticed a marked change in behavior of students participating in this project. Thus grew the idea to use the garden as an outdoor classroom and laboratory that would produce a crop of empowered and confident students.
The projects consist of three major components:
With the support of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Program, Bowie High School administrators created a curriculum that incorporates the garden program into classes for all students starting their freshman year and culminating in their senior year at which time, a student would have gained the experience of growing, cooking and selling their own food. An added benefit is an increase in English-language proficiency amongst program participants, many of whom come from Spanish-language dominant households. Faculty have noticed a higher level of confidence and leadership abilities in thesestudents as well.
In 2017, through the Paso del Norte Community Foundation, the project raised $54,000 from companies, individuals and grants to purchase a food truck to expand the garden’s reach and to support the academic goals of the multi-faceted curriculum. Revenues generated from sales from the food truck are ear-marked to fund certain areas of this project with a goal to make them self-sustainable.
To ensure the project has human capital, a small group of very interested students have become true Jardineros (gardeners) serving as strong advocates and leaders for the project. Many have also achieved Master Naturalist distinction from Texas A&M having participated and graduated from a certificate program. Others have excelled in food and soil science and now serve as expert mentors to other students. The group volunteers at the garden’s Farmers Market booths, gives presentations toprospective donors, orders seed and tools online and participates in think tank sessions. The program highly values the input and participation of the students in planning. This is a factor that is attributed to the success of the garden thus far.
The Bowie Jardin, Cocina & Mercado Fund is on a mission to raise $190,000 for Phase II. Growing demand for Bowie Garden Produce has presented an issue as students have been unable to produce enough to supply multiple markets. A chef, who is also an instructor, was hired to support the food truck effort and to supervise the overall quality of the produce being sold to meet demands of quality and the spur sales as well as develop the Culinary Arts Program. Food City, 501 Bistro, Segundo market and the Downtown Art and Farmer’s Market are a few of the restaurants and grocery stores that currentlycollaborates with Bowie.
To get Phase II started, a group of veterans volunteered their Saturday morning and accomplished thefollowing:
Bowie’s garden program continues to progress, serving as a model for other schools.
To contribute to the Bowie Jardin, Cocina & Mercado Fund, please click here or to start a scholarship fund call 915-218-2644.