Junior gardeners: West students start unique partnership with The Merc

Diana Wilson and Dan Phelps, garden coordinators for the Growing

Under cloudy skies, a handful of West Junior High School students put down mulch, dug holes and planted 40 tomato plants.

They got down and dirty, and they enjoyed it.

Wednesday was their first day on the job as part of the “Growing Food, Growing West” project, which evolves around a new 4,000-square-foot garden on the east side of the school.

The students — Chloe Gilligan, Karen Schneck, Abbey Ladner, Gillian Marsh and T.J. Everett — recently were hired as employees of The Community Mercantile and are getting paid $8 per hour. Maddie Williams also is part of the team, but was on vacation and missed the first workday.

Besides working in the garden, the students will be selling produce and flowers at small weekly markets, documenting the project, and raising public awareness about it. The produce also will be used in the cafeteria.

“I love this idea of growing our own food and eating healthier,” Karen says.

Gillian thinks she will benefit from the exercise.

“I hope to get in shape,” she says, pointing to her arms. Typically, she would be snacking, playing a computer game or reading after school. But, not this afternoon.

Gillian described the shoveling and digging as tough work, but worth it.

“I love everything about this project,” she says.

The seed for this project was planted by Nancy O’Connor, nutrition educator and outreach coordinator at The Merc. It has taken root thanks to grants and donations.

O’Connor oversees the project along with Vickie Lowe, WJHS health teacher; and Dan Phelps and Diane Wilson, garden coordinators.

“I am really excited that we have these kids. They are motivated,” Wilson says. “There’s just a lot of good energy. They are ready to learn.”

Let’s meet the students:

T.J. Everett

T.J. Everett

Parents: Ed and Chris Everett.

Siblings: Trevor, 19, and Travis, 21.

Paid job experience: Mowing lawns for grandparents and neighbors.

Plans for earnings: Paying off new bicycle.

Favorite vegetable: Carrot.

Favorite school subject: Science.

Hobbies: Playing piano and video games.

Mentor: Brad Hoopes, piano teacher.

Looking forward to: Keeping busy during the summer.

Think will be difficult: Public speaking.

Chloe Gilligan

Chloe Gilligan

Parents: John and Amy Gilligan.

Siblings: None.

Paid job experience: Babysitting.

Plans for earnings: Split into thirds. One for college savings, one for short-term savings on expensive items, nd one for spending.

Favorite vegetable: Zucchini and squash.

Favorite school subject: Band, playing tuba.

Hobbies: Art, making cards and sculptures.

Mentor: Parents.

Looking forward to: Learning more about The Community Mercantile.

Think will be difficult: No longer working in the garden when graduating to high school.

Abbey Ladner

Abbey Ladner

Parents: John and Christine Ladner.

Siblings: Lia, 7, and Grace, 6.

Paid job experience: None.

Plans for earnings: Savings account for car or charity.

Favorite vegetable: Cabbage or lettuce.

Favorite school subject: History or social studies.

Hobbies: Participating in basketball and softball, and playing cello and piano. Singing.

Mentor: George S. Patton, a general in World War II.

Looking forward to: Raising awareness about obesity and participating in a project that could serve as a role model for future garden projects.

Think will be difficult: Being away from the project when on vacation.

Gillian Marsh

Gillian Marsh

Parents: Chuck and Kris Marsh.

Siblings: Will Marsh, 20, a Kansas University freshman.

Paid job experience: Pet sitting a friend’s dog and neighbor’s cat.

Plans for earnings: Buying items such as CDs and clothes.

Favorite vegetable: Corn.

Favorite school subject: Band, plays percussion.

Hobbies: Hanging out with friends, playing computer games.

Mentor: Parents.

Looking forward to: Documenting the project by taking photographs.

Think will be difficult: Shoveling mulch.

Karen Schneck

Karen Schneck

Parents: Marlon and Michele Schneck.

Siblings: Eli, 13.

Paid job experience: None.

Plans for earnings: Put it into a bank account.

Favorite vegetable: Sweet potato.

Favorite school subject: Science.

Hobbies: 4-H and reading.

Mentor: Mom.

Looking forward to: Eating healthier and growing food for the community.

Think will be difficult: Waiting for things to grow.