A Green Thumb, and Leg Up, for Israeli Children

Gail Asper (The Asper Foundation) with Students at Yitzhak Sade School in Dimona - June 4 2015.
Gail Asper with students at Yitzhak Sade School in Dimona

Deep in the heart of the Negev, Dimona is a desert town not known for its greenery. And yet on June 4th, more than 200 Israeli children and teachers welcomed Gail Asper – the president of the Winnipeg-based Asper Foundation – to their Edible Gardens Initiative in Dimona to demonstrate how the desert can bloom.

The Edible Gardens Initiative, based on the Edible Classroom model from California, offers at-risk children and youth an “outside of the classroom” space – a garden – where they acquire essential life skills, foster leadership potential, and gain new insight into academic subjects like science, history, literature, nutrition, and health.

A part of the daily school curriculum, the garden is tended by students and, at the same time, professionals from Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) work with each teacher to develop garden-based curricula relevant to his or her subject areas.

“Gardens are children too. They need to be looked after,” said Asper, the esteemed Canadian philanthropist.

Children and teachers work together with a landscape architect to design the garden, which can feature ponds, fountains, wells, games, crops, hothouses, herb gardens, outdoor classrooms, or flowerbeds. Then parents and community members take ownership of the garden as well, expanding its impact beyond the school walls.

In addition to serving as a training ground and academic platform, the garden also becomes a therapeutic space for students as well.

“When a student is having a rough time in class, the student comes out to the garden and it relaxes him,” said a teacher involved with the initiative.

Prior to the garden’s establishment, most students have little connection to their environmental surroundings or were aware of where their food comes. Through the Edible Garden Initiative, the students gain a deeper appreciation for the land, nutrition, and the importance of sustainability.

In addition to the Asper Foundation, the Edible Gardens Initiative was created in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Jewish National Fund England (JNF UK), and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).

While currently currently active in the southern Israeli cities of Dimona, Kiryat Gat, and Ashkelon, the project is expected to eventually expand to an additional six schools in the coming years.