Saint Petersburg, FL –
St. Petersburg has one of the highest black male drop-out rates in the country. According to the St. Petersburg Times, it graduated an estimated 21 percent of the black males who are served by Pinellas County Schools in 2010. Drop-out rates align with poverty and poverty aligns with a set of health problems related to food consumption — diabetes and obesity.
To help address this problem, a program began in 2009 when a group of Eckerd College students convinced their professor, Dr. Kip Curtis, to help them learn to grow food. In exchange he asked them to build their own classroom on the schoolyard of the most at-risk elementary school in the county and offer standard-based lessons to the kids who visited them. Four years later Dr. Curtis and his students are cultivating four such gardens, coordinating dozens of volunteers, and making plans to build an urban farm and commercial kitchen on the south side of St. Petersburg. Test results show higher science scores because of these gardens and anecdotes about boys not only staying in school, but also beginning to do award-winning work.
Growing up on a sustainable farm in the ‘70’s in southeastern Massachusetts, Curtis thought he would do anything but farm for a living. In fact, his dream was to attend college in a large, metropolitan area, New York City, to be exact. He did just that, and then traveled from New York to Argentina to Montana, back to Massachusetts and ultimately, to St. Petersburg, where he has taught Environmental Studies at Eckerd College for the past six years.
The culmination of Kip’s education and career have led to landscape projects aimed directly at addressing the construction of values, using engaed performaive environmental education as a means of generating social change. These projects have taken root in a very significant organization, the Edible Peace Patch Project, a 501 (c ) (3 ) non-profit, whose mission is the development of sustainable urban agriculture, healthy food systems, experiential educational programming, and economic opportunity on the south side of St. Petersburg.
As Kip recently stated, “It’s an exciting time for the sustainability movement. We’re finally engaging systemic problems with system solutions. The sudden popularity of local food and focus on healthy meals are becoming keys to helping address the impacts of poverty on the Southside of St. Petersburg, Florida. I’m thrilled ot be a part of this national movement.”
About Kip Curtis:
Dr. Kip Curtis is a professor of environmental studies at Eckerd College and the founder and executive director of the Edible Peace Patch Project (http://peacepatch.org), a not for profit organization based in St. Petersburg that uses schoolyard educational gardens and food system intervention to address health and educational needs in St. Petersburg’s most at-risk public schools. Dr. Curtis received his Ph.D. in environmental history from the University of Kansas where he studied with eminent environmental historian, Dr. Donald Worster. Curtis’s first book, _Gambling on Ore: The Nature of Metal Mining in the United States, 1860-1910_ is being published this July. Dr. Curtis learned agriculture growing up on a sustainable farm in southeastern Massachusetts in the 1970s and 1980s.
He recently spoke at the “Our Town” forum at the Dali Museum on March 28th and has been invited to speak at Ignite Tampa Bay on April 25th at the Tampa Theater.