Spaces of Opportunity, a South Phoenix initiative, connects the community to its agrarian roots while teaching students the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
The Roosevelt Elementary School District helped launched the Spaces of Opportunity initiative to “protect and promote the long heritage in South Phoenix of being connected to the land,” Lawrence Robinson, Roosevelt School District Governing Board member, said.
He explained that the initiative sought to utilize an 18-acre site located near V.H. Lassen Elementary School, Ignacio Conchos Elementary School and John R. Davis Elementary School. It is located at 1200 W. Vineyard Road.
“We made it into literally a space of opportunities. Since the foundation of that space, we’ve had the community really owning the project and the concept and what they want to see there.”
The land has individual plots of land used by community groups like churches and nonprofits.
Robinson said students learn about the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and opportunities in agriculture.
“[Students] are taking vegetables they’ve grown there and turning them into not only healthy and nutritious meals but learning that maybe one day they could be an entrepreneur and open their own restaurant. We also then obviously have students who just take a tour and learn about health and nutrition in science and math,” Robinson said.
While the students learn about the opportunities within agriculture, the healthy habits they adopt may also impact their academic performance.
“Just like eating fresh and nutritious food will help these kids learn and do better academically,” Robinson said. “There’s a real connection to academic success.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “lack of adequate consumption of specific foods, such as fruits, vegetables, or dairy products, is associated with lower grades among students.”
The report indicates that healthy students have an advantage in cognitive skills and attitude, academic performance and education behavior.
“Not only does it show the importance of eating food that is fresh because you learn that in the process of growing it or selling it or procuring it. But it also though, is literally producing food for this community,” Robinson said.
Although access to nutritious food benefits academic success and overall health, South Phoenix is a food desert.
Food deserts are “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers,” according to the American Nutrition Association.
“Developers are afraid often to come into communities like mine. You literally do have to do a little bit of wheeling and dealing,” Robinson said.
The Spaces of Opportunity initiative works to combat the food desert issue with its farmers market every Saturday. Its partnership with the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation helps to promote its engagement with the community.
Robinson said the initiative has worked with the foundation for about two years, and it has provided funding to support the initiative’s efforts.