In a vague version of a line, approximately 75 fifth graders arrived at Weiss from Goudy Elementary School, in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. In collared shirts and dress pants, they had walked the mile from their school at Foster Avenue and Broadway to Weiss in order to see the hospital’s rooftop garden and apiary, as well as tour the Uptown Farmers Market.
Terry Tuohy, director of volunteer services at Weiss, welcomed the students and introduced them to the gardeners: Will Pool and Jed Schenkier. “We want to teach you guys that you can grow your own food at home. It doesn’t take much space,” she said.
But the students were there to learn more than what they could do at home. The Goudy School has its own garden, and administrators hope to improve it based on plans that their students develop.
This summer, the school won a federal grant that supplied the students with iPads to use for developing garden plans through a program called “The Goudy Garden: A Virtual Reality.”
The students already have brought the iPads to other gardens in the neighborhood to take notes and record sketches. “They’re gleaning information from experts,” said Chris Gordon, one of the teachers who accompanied the students to Weiss.
“’Sup, guys? Happy to be out of school? Enjoying the fresh air?” said Pool, standing before a growing box full of radishes.
The students cheered in response. Half of them had joined Pool for a tour of the garden boxes, while the other half followed Schenkier to the apiary, where bees make honey on the roof of the parking garage. “We live in an urban environment where a lot of space isn’t being utilized. There are so many people who need to eat,” Pool continued, emphasizing the importance of finding unlikely spaces to grow food.
As he explained the hospital’s philosophy behind the garden—to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to the community as an important step to a healthy life—the students jotted notes on their iPads and raised their hands to ask questions.
Across the lot, Schenkier was explaining how bees use their legs to collect pollen from flowers near the hospital. One boy pointed out two bees on the ground climbing over each other.
“What are they doing?” he asked.
Schenkier bent closer to look and waved the students in around him. One of the bees, he said, was a honeybee. The other was a yellow jacket that the honeybee was fighting to protect the hive. The students watched, fascinated.
Tuohy watched, too. “This is a snapshot of the future of our kids. They’re learning technology, ecology and urban planning.”
After the tours, the students walked to the Weiss parking lot, where the Uptown Farmers Market is held every Thursday.
“They’re getting into it,” Gordon said. “Any time we can get them out of the classroom really improves motivation.”
The students snacked on apples, plums and pears, discussing how the seeds grown on the roof grew into foods bought and eaten at market. Suddenly the plans for their own gardens seemed much more tangible.