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Archive for Thursday, April 8, 2010

New community garden sprouting at West Junior High School

Garden taking root at junior high

Nancy O’Connor, nutrition educator and outreach coordinator at The Community Mercantile, center, discusses plans for a garden at West Junior High School with gardener Diane Wilson, Lecompton, left, and Lawrence farmer Dan Phelps on Tuesday on the east side of the school.

Nancy O’Connor, nutrition educator and outreach coordinator at The Community Mercantile, center, discusses plans for a garden at West Junior High School with gardener Diane Wilson, Lecompton, left, and Lawrence farmer Dan Phelps on Tuesday on the east side of the school.

April 8, 2010

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Want to help?

Nancy O’Connor, coordinator of the Growing Food, Growing West project, needs volunteers to help dig beds, add compost and put down mulch in pathways, among other tasks.

The volunteer day will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday at West Junior High School, 2700 Harvard Road. The rain date is April 18.

If you are interested in helping with the volunteer day or with the overall project, contact Nancy O’Connor by e-mail at cmef@themerc.coop.

What began as a seed — or an idea — to have a school garden at West Junior High School has grown into a multifaceted project.

The Community Mercantile displays various donation cards designed in the form of garden tags.

The Community Mercantile displays various donation cards designed in the form of garden tags.

O'Connor goes over a sketch of the garden during a meeting at the Community Mercantile.

O'Connor goes over a sketch of the garden during a meeting at the Community Mercantile.

Organizers of the project are soliciting donations from local businesses help with purchasing tools and supplies.

Organizers of the project are soliciting donations from local businesses help with purchasing tools and supplies.

It’s now about much more than maintaining a 4,000-foot-square garden.

The project includes:

• Hiring six WJHS students to not only work in the garden, but also to do presentations about the garden, document the process and do taste testings in the commons area.

• Selling the produce in weekly markets at the school.

• Using the produce in the cafeteria.

• Incorporating the garden project into classes, such as business, health, writing, photography and art.

“It’s going to be fun because it’s going to be such a visual project. It will be something that the neighborhood can see and the kids can see and be proud of,” said Vickie Lowe, health teacher at the school.

Lowe has worked for years with Nancy O’Connor, nutrition educator and outreach coordinator at The Community Mercantile, and executive director of the Community Mercantile Education Foundation.

It was O’Connor who planted the seed for the project after attending an agriculture conference last fall in Des Moines, Iowa. She said everyone was talking about planting school gardens.

“I really wanted to take that next step,” she said.

Taking root

This spring, the project “Growing Food, Growing West” has taken root with the help of donations and grants. It received a $12,000 grant from the Douglas County Community Foundation’s LiveWell initiative. The Merc has contributed $6,000. O’Connor estimates the project will cost $20,000.

Two part-time garden coordinators — Dan Phelps and Diane Wilson — were hired to map and plan the garden, which will be on the east side of the school along Crestline Drive. Both have an extensive history in horticulture and their own gardens.

Wilson, of Lecompton, previously was director of grounds at Montpelier, the estate of James Madison in Virginia.

Phelps, of Lawrence, worked with Girls 2000, a group that enabled eight girls in inner-city San Francisco grow a garden and sell produce, where there hadn’t been other fresh produce for miles.

“It was real meaningful work,” he said.

Phelps hopes the “Growing Food, Growing West” project is the first of many school gardens in Lawrence, and he’s happy to take part in it.

“I love working with kids and I love gardening, so this is a great opportunity,” he said.

The garden coordinators and O’Connor, project coordinator, have their work cut out for them. During a meeting Tuesday, they were going over seed and plant donations from area businesses and growers, plans for fencing, needs for tools, schedules for garden work, and a grant application to get carts and wheelbarrows. They also talked about having a logo contest and T-shirts.

“Sometimes I feel like my head is going to explode because there are so many ideas,” O’Connor said. “There’s just lots of layers to it.”

So far, the soil has been tested, half of the compost spread and the ground tilled. They hope to have the students hired this month. A community volunteer day will be Sunday for digging beds, adding compost, putting down mulch in pathways and setting up an irrigation system, among other tasks.

Lasting work

O’Connor said the key to this garden is that it will be sustainable.

“Some school gardens languish in the summer, but ours is going to be very strong in the summer,” she said. “If we did this at an elementary school, it would be adults doing it for kids, and what we want here is kids doing it for kids. Kids turning kids on to what they are doing.”

The six students will earn $7.25 an hour and work about five hours a week for 24 weeks, O’Connor said.

“They will have an experience that other junior high students won’t,” she said.

Zach Batterman, a seventh-grader, said he plans to apply for the job.

“It’s a job and it gives me something to do, and you get paid,” he said.

Batterman said he has helped his parents plant tomatoes, peas and carrots. He likes to watch the tomatoes grow, but would rather eat the carrots and peas.

He’s in luck, because carrots and peas will be among the items planted in the garden.

There also will be tomatoes, radishes, green beans, peppers, onions, beets, spinach, flowers, herbs and more.

“Horticulture is therapeutic,” Wilson said. “I think it’s really empowering for the kids to know how to plant, market and sell their food.”

To help finance the garden for years to come, profits will be deposited in a bank account. O’Connor also plans to invite the community to a fundraising feast in the fall that will feature foods from the garden.

“We want this to be successful on lots of levels,” O’Connor said. “We don’t want it to be a one-time project. We want it to be the start of something different.”

She said some community leaders have even suggested asking First Lady Michelle Obama to visit the project. Obama launched a national initiative “Let’s Move” in February to combat childhood obesity.

“It’s keeping me up at night because it really is big,” O’Connor said.

Comments

budwhysir 4 years, 4 months ago

How much will this cost for upkeep when the donations run out????

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Love_Being_Blue 4 years, 4 months ago

I understand that it is to be a sustainable garden -- funded by the sale of the produce at the West Farmer's Market and other sites as indicated in the article. There will also be the community dinner utilizing produce grown in the garden that will be a donation per person event. I would think the major expenses are in the first year - investments in tools, time breaking sod and garden preparation. There are probably more up-front costs this year with the garden coordinators since they must develop the garden from a patch of grass. It would seem planning and execution costs would be much lower in future years.

I think this is a really exciting project. I hope it garners great community support.

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cletus26 4 years, 4 months ago

i just hope it looks like something. that garden that is downtown on vermont is always looking horrid. reminds of nightmare on elms st.

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martinluther604 4 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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chocolateplease 4 years, 4 months ago

This sounds like a great idea. I wish there was a way to harness the help of others to get my own garden started!

It's a daunting project for an individual who has never gardened. I've read books, talked to people, and could probably do it, but I lack any confidence or experience, so nothing gets done. It also seems like an overwhelming task to get things set up to start with.

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JRS 4 years, 4 months ago

I think it is a great idea and truly hope it works as planned. I would love to see schools grow produce to be used for their lunches. Not only would it make school food healthier, something like this could even be a vital part of keeping costs within budget.

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Richard Heckler 4 years, 4 months ago

It's like hands on biology. Not a bad idea.

Several people have donated tools for the project.

Perhaps they will learn gardening without toxic chemicals.

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chuckles 4 years, 4 months ago

I hope that it will look good for $20,000.

This is odd that West can receive that much for a garden while the garden started at Central Junior High a couple of years ago couldn't get donations from the nursery less than 3 blocks down the street.

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amac 4 years, 4 months ago

This sounds really awesome up until the part where the kids will be paid to work the garden. Kids need to give back to the community and their schools by volunteering. Join 4-H or Scouting; check with Roger Hill for opportunities. How about "2010-the summer of caring."

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Jacq 4 years, 4 months ago

I agree that it is important to instill the idea of community service. But, the kids will only be paid to take care of the garden during the summer, when school is not in session. This is a serious way of making sure the garden, which is big investment of money, materials and labor, stays in good shape, as getting kids to put in the work over the summer on a strictly volunteer basis may fall short of keeping it truly viable (maintaining a large garden and figuring out the sale of produce and keeping the books is a lot of work!) It will be a way of teaching the kids more skills than are generally learned in a volunteer position, which are generally more adult-led than this intends, and will be a way of showing them that horticulture is a field in which they can actually make money, if they so choose. At five hours a week there's time to volunteer to.

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tomatogrower 4 years, 4 months ago

chocolateplease, the easiest way to learn gardening is to start with one plant, like green beans. Have someone plow a place in the sun, plant and water. Will you have failures? yes. But keep a journal. Take notes on what went right what went wrong. Then add more veggies as you get more confident. In a few years, you'll be an expert.

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rivercitymom 4 years, 4 months ago

What an awesome idea for a business partnership with a local school!

I think the initial costs are so high because they are digging into a large grassy area that has probably had sod on it since West was built 40 or whatever years ago. They need a large area for this ambitious project (to feed students and sell produce to families) and I think that if they do save the proceeds this could become self-sustaining.

Also, "kudos" to Nancy for working in a way to pay some of the kids of their labor. I have volunteered at other school gardens in town and it is just about impossible to get people there to do the hard work, especially over the summer. Kids at this age want summer jobs (and parents want them to earn money) but are too young for must businesses to consider hiring them.

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laika 4 years, 4 months ago

Usually don´t like to jump on the complainer bandwagon, and I know this is privately donated money, but $20,000 for a community garden sounds pretty steep. I rented a tiller for $75 bucks, bought probably another $150 to $200 in supplies (sprinkler, seeds, tools, etc) and had quite the thriving back yard garden. I guess I didn´t pay myself for my own labor, but still I can´t see how you get much above $1,000, much less $20,000.

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ohjayhawk 4 years, 4 months ago

" I can´t see how you get much above $1,000"

Payroll alone will be $5,220.00 (6 students x $7.25/hour x 5hours/week x 24 weeks).

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budwhysir 4 years, 4 months ago

dont get me wrong good deal for the kids to learn about gardening I just do not think it is right to accept this type of donation to start this type of program if we talking about closing schools and reducing staff

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