Plans for a garden the size of a football field are on hold at Free State High School, as some members of the Lawrence school board question the project’s location, oversight, operational plans and financial arrangements.
But organizers say they’re looking forward to providing answers as they work to secure approval in time to prepare soil later this fall and start plantings this coming spring.
“I appreciate what they’re doing,” said Jennifer Smith, a member of the project’s planning committee who works as horticulture agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. “I just hope we can move forward.”
Organizers had expected to break ground on the Lawrence Community and Learning Garden next week, to clear the area and begin augmenting the overly acidic soil with lime to make it more hospitable for fruits, vegetables and anything else participants would want to grow next year. A community forum also had been scheduled to generate public interest and collect ideas.
But school board members have declined to sign off on the 1.5-acre project’s conceptual plans, at least for now — not until they can learn more about how operations would be managed, who would be responsible for maintenance and even whether other options had been considered for its location on the Free State campus.
“There are a lot worse things you can do to a good idea than ask questions,” said Scott Morgan, a member of the school board. “There are a lot of good ideas out there … and there are advantages to taking time to work out those details.”
As proposed, the garden would be located on an open field that previously had been used for the Free State marching band to practice. The site is along the north side of Overland Drive and south of the school’s baseball field.
The project would include space for Free State students to grow their own food, some of which could be used in the school cafeteria and some that potentially could be sold through the Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market.
The garden also would have smaller plots that could be rented by members of the community to grow their own food. Rental fees would be pooled with other revenues to help buy materials for the garden, including fertilizer, communal tools and possibly even the wages of a part-time caretaker.
The garden would give students hands-on experience in agriculture, science, finance and business management, said Patrick Kelly, a curriculum specialist for the Lawrence school district who is working on the project.
“If we can create work experiences that are school-based, that would be fantastic,” said Kelly, who also oversees the district’s Career Pathways programs. “The idea of students managing the garden, and doing their own gardening as well — not only being land managers, but also food producers — is the goal for this program.”
Rick Doll, district superintendent, expects the issue to be up for approval as early as Nov. 8, but certainly within the next couple of months.
Among the biggest issues to be addressed, he said, involve the project’s proposed location and its ongoing appearance. Board members have lauded the attractiveness and management of a smaller garden project in place at West Junior High School, and now want to be sure that any Free State plan would be attractive as well.
“That’s really the front porch of the school, front and center,” Doll said. “We just need to tighten up our recommendation, answer some questions.”
Leaders from other businesses, organizations and schools also are part of the effort, working together to develop a showcase garden that could lead to more sites elsewhere in Lawrence and Douglas County, where students and other members of the community can learn how best to make the most of their gardening materials and labor.
Morgan and other board members just want to be sure they give the effort the best chance to grow.
“Anytime you’ve invited someone, or allowed someone, to use your land or your property, you need to have an understanding of what that means,” Morgan said. “It’s always good to have things worked out in advance, because once you get it started it’s hard to change things.”