10 June 2009

School's out but the seeds are in: Local school children plant an edible schoolyard

Mollie Eley wears many hats. For those of us who left middle school years ago, Mollie is the friendly and knowledgeable owner of Goose the Market near downtown Indy. But to a special group of kids who just left middle school a week ago (for summer break), Mrs. Eley is the counselor and teacher who encouraged them to play in the dirt.

Mollie and her school, Sand Creek Intermediate in Fishers, were awarded a grant from the Hamilton Southeastern School Foundation to start an edible schoolyard earlier this spring. The kids planted tomatoes, kale, carrots, sunflowers, pumpkins, squash, lettuce, herbs, corn, and peas before school let out. They'll return this fall to harvest the produce and use it in hands-on cooking lessons with local chefs. As the garden grows next year--just like the student-farmers' expertise--the kids plan to sell produce from future harvests at a local farmers market booth.

The support that Mollie and her students have received from their community, the school principal, and parents is integral to the garden's success. The school's janitor, Jesse Myers, learned of Mollie's project and volunteered to share his gardening expertise with the kids. Jesse started the kids' seeds in the greenhouse on his impressive private garden and taught the students and adults about turning over the soil, using compost, and choosing seeds.

The kids working on this project face more challenges than most gardeners. Students in Mollie's Functional Academic Program (or FAP) focus on academics and activities designed to help them function and contribute to the world around them, regardless of the mild mental disabilities they handle every day. Nurturing a living thing and watching it grow are golden life lesson, but these kids will also learn to cook with "good, clean, and fair" food as well as interacting with customers, filling orders, and making change at their farmers market booth. It's an edible school yard that feeds the body and the mind.

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