Flint, MI—Students at Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary are learning about healthy food and gardening in a hands-on, accessible way by helping rebuild the school’s garden.

“When I came on, the school hadn’t planted in a couple years, and some of the beds were falling apart,” said AJ Appeldoorn, who works at the school as one of the Crim Fitness Foundation’s four FoodCorps members. “I surveyed some of the teachers about their interest in using the space, and some of the feedback I got was that the space itself wasn’t accessible and it wasn’t clean or safe for students.”

FoodCorps is a national service program geared toward connecting kids with healthier food in school, and in order to do that Appeldoorn said their first order of business was to simply clean up the school’s extant garden area.

Durant-Turri-Mott student Malachi Sherod, 12, starts flower seeds in the courtyard of the Flint, Mich. school in on April 29, 2022. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“To increase student and teacher engagement we definitely needed to … get some fresh paint, get it bright and welcoming again,” Appeldoorn said of when they first came to the school in November 2021.

After the clean-up, Appeldoorn said the work ahead is now about making the garden more accessible.

“Just looking at the needs of some of the students, we realized that if we left it as it was, a large portion of the student body wouldn’t be able to utilize the space, and that that’s not cool. We obviously wanted it to be for everybody,” Appeldoorn said. “So that inspired us to work on rebuilding the beds to be wheelchair accessible and create the garden to be a space that the students and their classes can curate for themselves.”

Students at Durant-Turri-Mott school paint flower pots in preparation for the accessible garden being built in the school’s courtyard on April 29, 2022. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)
Seed starters planted by Durant-Turri-Mott scholars on April 29, 2022. The seeds were planted in collaboration with Crim Fitness Foundation FoodCorps, who are working to build an acessible garden in the schools courtyard. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

As part of that curation effort, different grades have started planting and dreaming up ways to use the garden, such as on April 29, when Durant-Tuuri-Mott’s sixth graders planted perennial flowers and herbs.

“Things that they can plant and will come back every year,” Appeldoorn noted. “It’s kind of like a legacy project for sixth graders.”

Aside from future plantings and the soon-to-be accessible beds, the plan is for Durant-Tuuri-Mott’s garden to develop as students and teachers define its best uses for them.

“All school topics can be made relevant to the garden, so we’re really hoping that once this garden is really refreshed, and growing, and beautiful, that any teacher can find a way to use the space,” said Appeldoorn.

“But we are focusing mostly on trying to create a space where kids can go sit outside and read or just hang out … as well as FoodCorps service members continuing to take students out there for lessons and then helping support other teachers if they want to do it as well.” 

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....