By Carol Nash, photos by Karen McCullough
Ever catch a glimpse of a green utopian future in the streets of Urban Dallas? Maybe as the DART train whizzes by? Get off the train at Mockingbird Station and walk a few blocks to the Stonewall Jackson school garden at the corner of Mockingbird and Matilda. There you will find another reason, besides DART, to be optimistic about the future.
One of the most amazing school gardens in the country is growing right here in the middle of yet another orange-alert-day metromess, a lush garden with orderly rows of vegetables mingled with brilliant explosions of wildflowers and buzzing with the life of bees, butterflies and children.
Under the direction of teacher Mark Painter, the garden has served for more than ten years as an outdoor science lab for the children of Stonewall Jackson Elementary School. However, this pedagogical paradise is endangered because Painter’s job was eliminated by DISD during last year’s budget meltdown. Recently the Stonewall PTA and a non-profit have stepped in to fund Painter on a part-time basis but until DISD is willing to fund this uniquely valuable program again, the garden will need help from the community if it is to survive.
One way to define community is through food. Modern food systems have largely severed the ancient connections between people and their food, with much of it traveling for hundreds of miles to grocery stores. Processed foods, with lists of ingredients only a chemist could love or even pronounce, have become a staple in modern diets.
Luckily, there is a growing awareness that this system is bad, not just for people’s health but that of the planet. Restaurants are playing an important role in this process bringing conscience awareness to local food sourcing, food waste recycling and community service.
Community to the Rescue
Conversations about food issues permeate all facets of society; news, books, movies and even party conversations. It was no surprise when edible Dallas & Fort Worth publisher Nanci Taylor found herself discussing the politics and ecology of food and drink at an Earth Day party hosted by 360 Vodka at the State and Allen Lounge in Uptown last spring. When talk turned to the fate of the Stonewall garden, subsequent brainstorming led to the idea that State & Allen, a local restaurant, could pair with Stonewall Jackson in a way that would benefit the school, the community and the earth. The idea was born that food waste at State & Allen would become part of Stonewalls nurturing compost pile.
State & Allen manager, Angela Birt, enlisted the support of owners and staff, making it her goal to demonstrate that restaurant composting, recycling and supporting the community, is an important part of their business. Food prep vegetable waste, along with shredded paper from the office, goes into a state-of-the-art compost bin tucked
behind the restaurant. Designed to be discreet, this composter rotates smoothly with a hand crank, turning and aerating. Two bins allow the crew to finish off one batch of compost while starting another.
Compost from State and Allen’s bin is added to a much larger pile at Stonewall Jackson that consists of wood chips donated by a local tree trimming company, plant material from the garden, last season’s vegetables, weeds and wildflowers, coffee grounds and anything else organic that can be returned to the earth.
Proud students gleefully turn the pile and water it during dry spells. Six months into the cycle, they dig into the decomposed material, sift the fragrant new soil, place it in wheelbarrows and return it to nourish the garden. Mark Painter, garden guru, relies on this key ingredient not only to feed the Stonewall garden, season after growing
season, but to provide a life lesson as well.
When students from kindergarten to 5th grade visit the garden during science class, they care for their personal plants and record their observations. Here, they can watch life in action: plants growing, butterflies laying eggs, bees pollinating, and earthworms wriggling. Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is delivered in the form of the humble
potato. Students learn not only that food comes from the ground, but also that growing food takes a lot of work, many shovels of compost and months of care. These are the lessons taught in Mr. Painter’s garden and they are the lessons that the students can carry into their future lives as responsible citizens.
As a bonus, Stonewall’s garden is supplying fresh herbs and veggies to State and Allen who has added a special Stonewall frittata to the menu. To sample this fresh, local offering, be sure to visit State & Allen Lounge for Sunday Brunch. Call ahead to make sure it’s on the menu that day.
State & Allen Lounge
2400 Allen Street