PEAS Community Empowers Students through Edible Education
Former teacher Lauren Maples founded the nonprofit to bridge the gap between the garden and the classroom
Curiosity and questions from children, coupled with pride in food that’s well-grown and prepared. These are just some of the highlights happening weekly at PEAS Community, a 501(3)c organization that aims to cultivate joyful connections with the natural world. Two components — edible education and outdoor learning — make up the program a former teacher, Lauren Maples, started almost 10 years ago, due to her passion of helping people learn to grow their own food.
“I think by teaching how different foods and ingredients can impact our brain health or our muscles or our bones and teeth — that’s important knowledge for everyone to have,” says Maples, who focuses on students, grades K-12, along with their families. The nutritional advocate recognizes that not all families or individuals have enough food to put on their tables. For example, an estimated one in five Austinites faces food insecurity.
A full solution for the overall problem isn’t easy to find, but empowering kids through garden education and helping teachers is one way the organization works to make a difference. One of Maple’s favorite successes involves a family of three kids and a mother who demonstrate the “power of PEAS Community” after four years of volunteering (and counting).
“The kids are now taking care of plants and animals and they are helping to cook,” says Maples.
An added element, a kitchen classroom, at one of PEAS Community’s 19 campuses, allows students to prepare fresh garden dishes.
“Anything they make, the kids love! They’ll try things they’ve never tried before,” says Maples. Corn muffin recipes, pickles, apple sauce and berry jellies are just some recent creations. The experience also helps to broaden palates.
“They realize that they may not like a piece of kale by itself, but they may like it prepared a different way. They may like it as kale chips or another way it’s transformed,” says Maples, who is partial to the cherry tomatoes grown in the school gardens.
“I am Italian-descent,” explains Maples. “I love to make a Caprese salad or other things I can eat with a nice hearty loaf of bread.”
Maples’ own children, now ages 22, 18, 18 and 16, are still her inspiration for this program, as she wants to make sure their peers, along with even younger generations, have a connection with nature.
“Learning to grow food is very powerful. Even when it’s done in very small ways, we can contribute greatly to a person’s health and well-being,” says Maples. “Add the extra layer of being outside. The sunshine helps our mental health and then, every ingredient that’s grown that goes into cooking — that’s also contributing to physical health.”
PEAS Community takes applications for new school participants each spring. The program plans to expand to 25 campuses next year. In fact, demand is likely higher than ever. Due to the outdoor nature of most activities, PEAS Community kept working with schools during the height of the pandemic and was able to help provide some relief for teachers. The organization also offers yearly spring break and summer camps.