Students at Goessel Elementary School discovered Thursday that it takes more then good soil, seed, water and oxygen to grow a school garden.
Starting this year, it also takes the financial help of local donors.
With four students equipped with garden tools stationed nearby, and the rest of the student body looking on Thursday afternoon, Kerry Watson, representing Mid Kansas Cooperative Association, presented the school with some seed money—literally and figuratively.
MKC’s check for $500 will be enough to cover program expenses for most of this school year and perhaps into the fall, according to John Fast, Goessel superintendent.
“I’m hoping one or two more donations will get us beyond that,” he added.
The garden program was launched two years ago after the school received a state grant to get it off the ground—or into the ground, as the case may be.
“It was up to us to find ways after that to find funds to keep it going,” Fast said. “Without private donations like this, we don’t have the funding within our budget to keep a program like this going.
“This a big help that will keep us going into a third and fourth year.”
Goessel’s gardening program involves students from elementary school through high school.
“I think in March we’ll probably get some seeds started in the greenhouse at the high school,” said Pam Abrahams, who is stepping in as the new program coordinator this spring.
“Probably April-May is when well start planting in the (outdoor) garden.”
High school FFA students will contribute to the project by planting tomatoes, melons and other plants get an early start on the outdoor season by sprouting seeds in individual containers protected in the greenhouse environment.
While younger students can observe the greenhouse effort, their hands-on involvement begins once outdoor growing begins.
“I think we’ll divide the garden into class plots, and I’ll help each class with planting and maintaining their garden,” Abrahams said.
She also plans to provide lessons on different aspects of gardening, such as soil composition and choosing a good place for a garden, as well as explaining the nutritional value of the produce they grow.
Abrahams said she’s excited to get started.
“I enjoy gardening very much at home—and I have a teaching license, so I love working with kids,” she said. “I haven’t taught for a few years now, but I’m all for teaching and for getting children outdoors. I think that just doesn’t happen enough.
“I also have a passion for encouraging healthy eating, and teaching about nutrition. Those things all sort of connect with the garden.”
Fast said children often change their eating habits as a result of growing produce in the garden.
“When you get them to raise it, pick it and carry it back to school, they can’t wait to see it on the a la carte tray because they’ve raised it,” he said
“It changes their approach about what they like. They often think they don’t like greens, but it makes a difference when they raise it themselves.”
It’s the combination of teaching kids about growing vegetables and supporting good nutrition that made MKC’s donation an easy decision, according to Watson.
“We have a donations fund, and a large portion of our donations go toward programs that alleviate hunger, and we’re big supporters of ag education,” she said. “In addition, we support programs that are about leadership development and programs that enhance or improve communities.
“Their school garden falls into two of those categories—ag education, in that they teach the kids about planting and growing food, that it actually does come from the ground and not the shelf. Also, I understand they take some of the produce to food banks.
“That hits two of the things we’re passionate about.”
Another positive component of the program, say those involved, is community participation.
“We’re all excited about trying to get the community involved, such as having community members come and help at the school,” Abrahams said. “I know when I’m teaching, we would like to have a second adult there to help supervise usually 16 to 20 kids (at a time).”
Abraham said the plan is to have each class spend time in the garden at least once a week.
“Also, in the summer there’s a lot of community involvement with taking care of the garden, since school is out.”
Abrahams said adults will have a chance to sign up as volunteers during the school’s family reading night in March.