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Harvesting agricultural education from Lakeview teaching garden

SOLON– With a grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), Solon school nutrition director Kelly Crossley and the Lakeview PTO have teamed up to bring students the freshest produce you can get.
On five raised beds on the primary school’s campus, five classes and one preschool class planted carrots, onions, peppers, tomatoes and more on May 15.
“These beds are meant to be primarily a teaching tool for the classroom,” Crossley said, adding her biggest concern was watering the garden during a dry spring.
Five teachers signed on for a share of the school’s community crop: Lori Grimoskas, Heather Groh, Joyce Cook, Sheri Jones and Amber Feaker.
Crossley said that while students were really excited to care for their plants, most will wait until the fall to see the results.
The gardens will be tended by Before and After School Program (BASP) attendees this summer with help from staff and community members.
BASP kids will also graze the garden this summer. Crossley said the summer harvest will likely make it into BASP meals, but by fall, classroom visits would eat up much of the fruits, roots and veggies.
Teachers will also bring some food into classes, and if the harvest permits, the rest might one day become part of the daily lunch fare in Solon. Crossley promised to announce the first Lakeview menu that contains school-grown items.
She applied for the grant in March and met with teachers and parents in Solon to decide how to organize the garden and bring students outside to plant seeds.
Gardeners planted peppers, radishes, kohlrabi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pole and bush beans, Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, peas, beets, parsley, basil, oregano, sage, chives, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, watermelon and three blueberry bushes.
Crossley predicted the fall harvest would bring many students to the table for fresh food from the children’s garden.
IDALS gave Solon $350 and the Lakeview PTO added $200 for the garden starter project.
The “A Garden is the Way to Grow” program was created with money from a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant designed to help specialty crops in the state.
The state money also provided for some “red wigglers,” worms that now live in first-grade teacher Lori Grimoskas’ room until they can be relocated to a compost bin. Crossley said she hopes to compost apple cores and other scraps from Solon lunch trays to replenish the soil. The school gardeners are looking for a way to install a compost bin near the garden.
The garden will definitely be an ongoing part of the school, Crossley noted. “We hope to make sure that the school garden stays viable for many years to come and will hopefully expand so we can have as many teachers and students involved as possible.”
She’s seeking another grant or donation for next year.
IDALS Farm to School coordinator Tammy Stotts called Crossley, “a leader in using local foods in school meals.” Crossley began a Farm to School chapter in Independence before being hired at Solon.
The Farm to School program began in 2007 when Iowa lawmakers passed legislation to link elementary, secondary, public and non-public schools with Iowa farmers. The program helps provide schools with fresh and minimally processed Iowa-grown food to include in school food.
Stotts said Farm to School initiatives like “A Garden is the Way to Grow” encourage healthy eating habits and provide students with hands-on learning activities.
IDALS works with the Iowa Department of Education to implement agriculture programs with an educational impact.
“A Garden is the Way to Grow” was offered to 20 schools in 2012 and includes a garden planner, seeds from Seed Saver Exchange in Decorah, and nationally-recognized curriculum on gardening for elementary students.
Stotts said there are currently 21 Farm to School chapters in Iowa. Each school chapter tailors a plan for bringing local foods into their school.
More about the IDALS school programs can be found at www.iowaagriculture.gov/AgDiversification/farmToSchoolProgram.asp.