Study after study shows that when students come to school hungry, it is harder for them to focus and learn at the levels of which they are capable. In some cases, students may have access to food, but the food lacks the nutrients they need to live a healthy lifestyle. Much of the east side of Indianapolis is considered a food desert, an area where there is little access to fresh foods or grocery stores, and it is difficult for families to get nutritious food at affordable prices within a reasonable distance. This includes Martindale-Brightwood and the surrounding neighborhoods where 80 percent of KIPP Indy students live. This means that many of our students and families may not have access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and other foods that make up a healthy diet.

That is why KIPP Indy teacher, Ronak Shah, partnered with The Kitchen Community to help bring a Learning Garden to our school. “A Learning Garden is a school garden that provides an opportunity for us to not only grow edible food here at school, but allows us to teach students and families how to grow a variety of foods at their own homes and in their own gardens” Ronak went on to say that the garden would be available to teachers throughout the school to use for their lessons, and he especially looks forward to taking his students out to the garden for units covering earth and environmental science.

Ronak knew that in order to start a school garden, it would be necessary to have the additional support of community partners. When The Kitchen Community, an organization that helps schools create their first Learning Gardens, came to Indianapolis, that aspiration was within reach. Last spring, KIPP Indy seventh graders planted a brand new Learning Garden on the school grounds with the support of The Kitchen Community.

As the leader of the KIPP Indy cooking club, or KIPP Café, Ronak is also excited about the opportunities the garden offers his student-chefs. “The students of KIPP Café will largely be responsible for tending to the garden throughout the year. This will consist of daily watering, trellising tomato plants, pruning leaves to make sure the plants stay healthy, and a number of other important duties necessary to keep the garden growing.” The food grown in the garden will also give the students ingredients to use in their weekly meetings, where they try nutritious, simple recipes that they can replicate at home (and of course, enjoy the final product).

Ultimately, Ronak believes the Learning Garden will help the students of KIPP Indy and the KIPP Café accomplish a few key goals. “First, it provides students a skillset to grow and cook their own nutritious food. Secondly, we want to coach our youth as leaders and resources within the school community and the neighborhood, and the KIPP Café is a chance for them to lead programs and classes for people of all generations in Martindale-Brightwood. Finally, it will teach students how to take what they have learned in the garden and get that food to the table, supporting not just themselves, but their families and the broader community.”