Odd Duck restaurant gives green to fund school garden

Student learns gardening skills in a partnership with Odd Duck restaurant. (KXAN Photo)
Student learns gardening skills in a partnership with Odd Duck restaurant. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A unique partnership is springing up between an Austin elementary school and a local eatery: Odd Duck Restaurant is supplying resources for an outdoor garden for Zilker Elementary.

Sam Hellman-Mass, chef and partner of Odd Duck, says he and the other restaurant partners wanted to expand beyond one night or one event charity work. They wanted “more of a lasting partnership,” so they looked to the nearest elementary school, Zilker, about a mile down the road.

Funding for school gardens can come from many sources, but usually the PTA, kids or adults involved with the school, are the ones searching for grant money. In this case, the funding was brought to Zilker’s door, with what Hellman-Mass says was easy approval from the parents and teachers to build the garden. Urban Patchwork, a nonprofit that builds and maintains gardens for schools and businesses, then stepped in to get the garden up and running. The company still manages volunteers and provides supplies for year-round gardening at the school.

But there were challenges. Hellman-Mass says, “When we did it, there was no template. You know, there’s resources out there, but nothing really to say ‘Okay, if you have a school garden, you’ve got some funds, these are the steps you need to do.'”

Now two years in, the garden is growing. In fact, the beds are doing so well that the fourth grade class just sold some of the produce at a farm stand. That gives the Odd Duck partners hope to expand the program. They want to offer cooking classes, and try to use the food grown in the school cafeteria. They’d like to introduce more food, and different varieties of what’s already growing.

Two teachers are helping to ensure that exposure to the garden is part of the curriculum. Tammy Thompson, a fourth grade teacher, says that integration and hands-on activities are ways to help kids remember what they learn. The hope is that kids will see the garden as a learning for all sorts of subjects, as well as a place to have fun.

Fun is exactly what fourth grader Lillian Leyden has in the garden. She is learning about the growth cycle of monarch butterflies while she plants milkweed to give them something to eat. Her classmate, Jude Upchurch, enjoys planning the garden out and getting help from his friends. Upchurch plants a bluebonnet and other kids bring water for the new plant.

This program has helped inspire the City of Austin’s Sustainability Office to establish an Austin school garden roundtable, with community members weighing in on ways to help other schools get gardens going.

Hellman-Mass doesn’t currently know of many other public-private partnerships like Odd Duck and Zilker Elementary, but he’s hoping he can help them start. He wants to “take the lessons that we have kind of gleaned from this process of how to start a school garden to try to build and maintain a school garden at every school in Austin.”

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