The Community Mercantile Education Foundation partnered with West Middle School two years ago to start a garden project at the school.
The project involved planting a garden that would produce food for the cafeteria and hiring students to not only take care of the garden, but to sell produce so it would be sustainable.
Trish Bransky, Southwest principal, said she has been in awe of what has been accomplished at West.
“I think it’s amazing. I’ve been a gardener all of my life and I’m impressed with the way that it’s set up. It looks nice and it’s good instructionally,” she said. “I think they’ve shown that you can have a viable program like this in a school environment and it can be instructional and kids can be responsible for a lot of things.”
Last year, the Growing Food, Growing Health garden crew harvested 2,360 pounds of produce and 560 pounds of it went into the school’s cafeteria. The students also sold $3,823 worth of produce which went back into the project.
In November, it sold sweet potatoes to the Lawrence School District for use in the Schwegler cafeteria. Nancy O’Connor, project director, said it was the first time that the district bought produce from a school garden and the gardeners had to document their growing practices and fill out a lot of paperwork to make it happen.
“That was really fun because we don’t get paid for all of the stuff we put in the West cafeteria, but it was symbolically important to be able to sell something to the district,” O’Connor said. “We are hoping to see more of that.”
The Growing Food, Growing Health project has even bigger plans for this year. Among them:
• They are partnering with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department to start a student-run Community-Supported Agriculture program. The program would be open to health department employees. In addition, there will be a weekly market inside the building where the health department is located at 200 Maine. The students will offer education and sampling in addition to selling their goods.
• They have applied to participate in the City of Lawrence and Douglas County’s new Common Ground Program. They hope to be able to garden on land owned by the city. O’Connor said if they get one of the 12 sites that are available, they plan to partner with another farmer. The city and county expect to name the grantees at the end of the month.
• They are organizing a new 5K run/walk in Lawrence to raise funds for the project. It will be in April or May and called “Running For Food, Running For Health.”
“Our heads are spinning, but it can’t be a stagnate project because we haven’t done everything that needs to be done yet,” O’Connor said.
The Growing Food, Growing Health adult leaders also include Lily Siebert, garden coordinator, and Dan Phelps, grower resource. They have been meeting regularly with Bransky and Southwest’s garden coordinators Carol Thrasher and Perry Kennard, both teachers at the school.
“They have been amazing in helping to get this off the ground in terms of their expertise, financially and so forth, to make it a reality,” Bransky said.
Southwest will have two gardens. The vegetable garden will be located north of the building and an herb and flower garden will be close to the main doors. There will be two volunteer work days to get the garden ready: March 31 and April 14. The school has received about $1,500 in grants for startup costs. It plans to have a display at the school where staff, parents and neighbors can donate money for items like tools, plants and gloves.
Bransky said they plan to hire two students for the project. The goal is to provide produce for the cafeteria’s salad bar and to sell it in markets at the school. Southwest also is having a logo and name contest for their garden project.
“Gardening is something that I am very interested in and I think this is a great opportunity for our school,” Bransky said.
Leaders and students with the Growing Food, Growing Health project — which involves gardens at West Middle School and Sunset Hill and Hillcrest elementary schools — are having a dinner to raise money.
The dinner will be from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28 at West Middle School cafeteria, 2700 Harvard Road. The cost is $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 5-10, and free for those younger than 5.
The meal will feature burritos or enchiladas made with sweet potatoes from the West garden. Students in Eudora High School’s culinary program will make a side dish using herbs from the West garden. There will be a salad made with local greens and local chefs are donating desserts.
Student gardeners will give a presentation and there will be live music. All of the proceeds will be used for the school gardens.
Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance at The Merc, 901 Iowa.