KINGDOM CITY — How will North Callaway’s garden grow? With help from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and students of all ages.
Beginning in spring 2021, students will have a chance to get their hands dirty and enjoy the literal fruits of their labor in a new 5,625-square-foot garden plot. It’ll be established near the Thunderbird Learning Center, and everyone from high school agriculture education students down to preschoolers will have a role to play in making it a success.
“Everyone in the district thought that a district garden would be wonderful,” Preschool Director Tia Neal said. “My idea was to start small but, we just jumped in.”
North Callaway High School students already have ample chances to learn about agriculture through the ag and Future Farmers of America programs, but elementary and preschool students have fewer opportunities, according to a grant document prepared by district data coordinator Gayle Timm.
“With 50 percent of North Callaway students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, and Callaway county ranked 78th out of 114 Missouri counties for health indicators according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, finding novel ways to introduce students to healthier choices at a younger age is imperative for student health outcomes,” Timm wrote.
The $49,996 USDA Farm to School grant will pay for the materials necessary to create and irrigate the plot, put up fencing and purchase a garden shed. Ag education and FFA students will help put up shelving, build and stock the shed, prepare soil for planting and — of course — actually grow the plants.
They’ll also help mentor the younger students who visit the garden.
“We’re trying to get students of all ages together as much as we can,” Neal said.
Preschool students will join in by planting seeds, pulling weeds, monitoring plant growth, learning about the garden, and trying fresh garden fruits and vegetables.
“We’ll be getting those kids into healthy foods and making it fun from a young age,” Neal said.
Students at the district’s elementary schools will visit the garden as part of their annual Food for America field trip.
“Getting the younger kids involved, hopefully that will spark that interest,” agriculture teacher Katie Robnett said. “I hope they’ll continue to love playing in the dirt and growing plants.”
Potential crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peppers and other garden classics, as well as pumpkins for young students to pick.
Someday, if there’s enough extra, food harvested from the garden may be sold to Opaa, the district’s food service contractor, and served in district cafeterias. While the program ramps up, it’ll be enjoyed by students tending the garden and, possibly, sold to parents via a produce booth in the parking lot.
“We’ve been obtaining equipment, learning USDA best practices We’ve developed what we think is a workable plan,” said Nicole Buschmann, the district’s assistant superintendent, during a Nov. 18 board of education meeting.
There’s much more to the project than just the garden plot. To ensure the district is making the most of this project, they’re incorporating gardening into the curriculum at all levels of education. For example, preschool students picking tomatoes can learn about colors, how to measure and weigh objects, and the parts of a tomato plant, Neal explained. Robnett said food science students could use the produce to make salsa.
The garden is being incorporated into the district’s wellness plan.
Robnett and Neal networked via Zoom with a St. Louis-area school district that has a successful Farm to School program. North Callaway and Opaa are also planning to procure more of the district’s food from farms within a 150-mile radius surrounding Kingdom City.
Members of a Farm to School team formed within the district will meet regularly to plan and discuss progress.
The hard work will be worth it, Buschmann hopes.
“We want something that can be a showcase, some place that’s a destination to get in the dirt,” she said.
Neal and Robnett said it’ll take plenty of volunteer effort from parents and students to make the garden a success, especially when the schools aren’t in session during the summer. To learn how your family can help, send them an email at [email protected] or [email protected]