While some people may be distracted when filmmakers Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin have a camera pointed at them, students at South Whidbey Elementary School were not.
That’s because their attention and focus was on their one-half acre school farm and garden. Everything else was just background noise.
“They were just so enthusiastic about what they were doing,” Young said. “Cary [Peterson] has a magical way with the children. Her enthusiasm lifts them in a wonderful way. It was really a treat.”
“And, of course, we got to munch on some veggies along the way,” she added.
Eager and enthusiastic kids made for easy subjects in Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin’s documentary film, Cultivating Kids, that will be screened at the Clyde Theater at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6.
The 22-minute film provides an inside look at the garden program and its activities, from its science and math curriculum to kids planting beans or digging potatoes.
The project spanned from spring 2015 to spring 2016, said Young, and has footage of both the elementary and Langley Middle School gardens. A preview of the film included interviews with School Farm and Garden Coordinator Cary Peterson, district teachers and Superintendent Jo Moccia. Young and Dworkin have produced documentaries around the world over the past 30 years and have mainly focused on sustainability in regards to the environment and social justice. Six of their productions have been broadcast on PBS and have won prestigious film festival awards.
Filming wrapped up at last year’s first-ever Thanksgiving Feast held in the cafeteria of South Whidbey Elementary School. Young said she and Dworkin were the beneficiaries of an innovative program happening right on their home turf.
“We visited the garden once and we were sold,” Young said. “Here are these kids just chomping down on fabulous, fresh vegetables.”
The garden program has captured headlines in The Record a half dozen times since its inception in 2013, and more recently been featured in The Seattle Times and by King 5. But this is the first time it will take to the big screen and Peterson is thrilled with the end product.
“They did such a great job,” Peterson said. “The magic of the garden comes through and how the kids love to eat.”
Young said one of the goals of the film was to show a wide range of activities and the different kinds of foods the program creates. Feedback has been positive both on the South End and across the nation, Young said.
Anupama Joshi, executive director and co-founder of the National Farm to School Network, said the film captures “the excitement and joy” that the garden brings to “kids, educators, and community members,” according to a press release. Lauren Howe, director of Slow Food USA, a national school garden program, said in an email that the project shows “how school gardens connect to all aspects of a school day to support academic success, healthy eating habits, and connections to nature.”
The film will eventually be distributed nationally by Bullfrog Films.
Sandy Whiting, executive director of Goosefoot, which helped fund the project, thought it captured the mood and enthusiasm of the kids. Goosefoot, a non-profit economic development organization, has also helped fund the garden program through matching grant fundraisers.
“I think it’s a fabulous success,” Whiting said. “I think it’s just an amazing tool to use for educational purposes.”