Growing a Movement


A multitude of veggies and herbs—from kale to chamomile—grow in neat, green lines, and young fruit trees dot the landscape of a once unused lot near the Knapp Center. On one day elementary students sit in the nearby outdoor classroom learning about planting heirloom tomatoes and composting; on another, Drake students discover a variety of healthful foods to recommend to diabetes patients.

This vision began as a seed in the minds of a few Drake students. It’s blossomed into the Des Moines Youth Learning Garden—“Sprout” for short—a thriving garden designed to encourage engagement with both the environment and the community.

Several area organizations participate in the garden. This summer, students in the service-learning program (providing undergraduates with volunteer experiences to complement academic learning) used curriculum created by environmental science and policy undergraduates to teach children from the Boys and Girls Club of Central Iowa about growing their own food and how to be environmental stewards.

“I firmly believe that the youth of the world can be the catalysts for change, even in Des Moines, Iowa,” says Madison Johansen, a junior environmental policy major and the student coordinator of the garden. “The Boys and Girls Club kids’ vibrancy is contagious. If we can spark a passion for environmental responsibility or service-learning in one child, the garden will be a success.”

While the garden serves as a unique classroom for community children, Drake students from all colleges and schools will also participate in the initiative. Students from the World Languages Center created multilingual signage featuring English, Spanish, and Chinese. As part of a J-Term course, School of Journalism and Mass Communication undergraduates developed a publicity plan for the project.

“Many colleges and universities have gardens on campus. However, few have a specific focus on shared community and campus space,” says Mandi McReynolds, Drake’s director of community engagement and service. “In addition, few have dual learning opportunities for students of higher education and local youth education.”

Inspired by their first taste of a shared harvest, Drake students hope the seeds they’ve planted grow into a stronger—and greener—partnership.

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