An Interview with Libby Lyon

Hi, everyone! Meigan here and I had the pleasure of interviewing Libby Lyon about her work with City Schoolyard Garden, a Charlottesville organization whose mission is to engage Charlottesville city schools with schoolyard gardens in order to enhance learning experiences and health. Libby has been working with City Schoolyard Garden since her second year at the University of Virginia in 2012.

University of Virginia’s advertisement for the Morven Summer Institute. Image from virginia.edu

How did you first get involved with City Schoolyard Garden?

I took Science, Technology, and Society (STS) class about food systems and technology at the Morven Summer Institute the summer after my first year at UVa. We had to do a food systems-based project and for mine, I helped create a partnership between UVa community garden and the Charlottesville community. Through this, we connected with Venable Elementary to asses best management practices for school gardens.

At Morven, there’s also a Morven kitchen garden that’s connected to City Schoolyard Garden. With two other peers, we did a year-long independent study with help from a grant during my second year to continue looking at best management practices. During this time, City Schoolyard Garden came up with the initiative to develop a garden in every elementary school (six in total) in the city. Over the summer, I studied again at Morven Summer Institute and focused on gardening. I even had the pleasure of attending the Edible Schoolyard Conference in Berkley, CA to learn more about schoolyard garden initiatives all over the country.

During my third year, I received a grant to help me continue working on creating a garden-based curriculum, specifically targeted to second graders. Now, in my fourth year at UVa, I help out at the after school garden and wellness club at Burnley-Moran. I’m also a teaching assistant for the Global Sustainablity class and overseeing students work with City Schoolyard Garden on small projects, such as videos about plastic use and creating a mechanical bike water pump. However, my role as a TA is independent of my work with the club and creating the curriculum.

Venable Elementary’s garden. Image from http://www.cityschoolyardgarden.org/

What is your favorite part about working with City Schoolyard Garden?

There are so many aspects I could say, but working with kids in the garden is one of my top picks. This past year, we harvested potatoes on the first day the club met. Initially, we discuss how things like how to be respectful of garden space and educate them on how to grow things. It’s fun to let kids do their own thing in the garden and let them walk around. For instance, one kid found a huge spiderweb between two plants which would be something that would normally have been missed.

After you graduate, what do you hope continues with UVa students and City Schoolyard Garden?

I definitely hope that students continue their work with City Schoolyard Garden such as providing help at the after school club. It would be great if this type of outreach became more institutionalized. At one time, there was an effort to make student involvement with City Schoolyard Garden part of Madison House [an independent non-profit organization that coordinates volunteers to go out into the Charlottesville community] but the programs at the elementary schools weren’t big enough. Hopefully the city of Charlottesville will give financial aid to keep this initiative going.

Aside from student involvement, parent involvement is also important. Many coordinators for each elementary school are parents of children currently enrolled but once their children graduate, so do the coordinators. It would be great for the parent positions to be more “sustainable.”

University of Virginia’s community garden, located across from O’Hill Dining Hall. Image from http://uvagarden.wordpress.com/

When did you first start gardening?

I signed up to be part of the community garden at the Activities Fair my first year. Until then, I had no experience gardening. Being part of the community garden is great because members bring their knowledge of how to grow crops and share it. It’s great to experiment with different plants. For instance, one year, we tried growing peanuts. Even though they never reached the point of harvest, it was still fun learning how to grow them! We do other fun activities too, like vising other farms in the Charlottesville area. Not only are they fun field trips, but it’s an opportunity for us to ask experienced farmers questions about growing certain crops.

Asparagus roots must be grown with patience! Image from http://extension.missouri.edu/

What’s your favorite item to grow?

Asparagus. I’ve learned that you need to be patient over the duration of multiple seasons because asparagus roots need time to properly establish roots.

Any gardening tips for beginners?

Don’t be afraid to experiment with it comes to the type of crop you want to grow or the planting method you use. This gives you an opportunity to figure out what works best for your space. Run with your ideas!

What would you consider to be the biggest problem with the food industry?

There are so many things I could say for this but the first thing that comes to mind is the lack of awareness. There’s definitely a disconnect between where the food people eat comes from and when it ends up on a plate. I feel like if people knew about the processes and procedures it took to make their food, there would be a huge change in the way people consume food. The second thing thing that comes to mind are current policies in place like subsidies on corn and soy. These subsidies continue to fuel our food system and perpetuate our patterns of consumption.

The new California law would mean chickens can live in enclosures large enough to stand, sit, and extend their wings without touching their neighbor. Photo found at http://www.sfgate.com/, originally taken by Charlie Neibergall, AP.

Despite all the problems with the food industry, what do you like most about what is changing within the food industry?

California recently passed a law detailing the size of chicken enclosures. It’s a small step in the right direction [compared to, say, free-range chickens] and this way chickens aren’t totally on top of each other. However, this has had repercussions such as some states threatening to sue California as this has affected the prices of chickens across state borders. It’s also great how community gardens continue to present a powerful “start from beginning” message about food in the last 10 years along as young gardeners and young farmers movements. There is a new generation of younger farmers, attuned to the expectations and demands of consumers, as consumers are slowly becoming more educated about food.

[For more information on the California legislation, click here to read the article by the New York Times.]

What book or movie would you recommend to someone who knows nothing about the current state of the food industry?

I would highly suggest watching the “King Corn” documentary. As for a book, I love The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The author even wrote a children’s version which we purchased for the garden and wellness club at Burnley-Moran.

Thanks for the interview, Libby!

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  1. An Interview with Libby Lyon | Green Grounds

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