Transforming  A Garden Space Into An Outdoor Classroom

Transforming A Garden Space Into An Outdoor Classroom

Fri 21 Sep 2012

Story by Katie Looney and Jordan Bryant

For the last three months, we have worked with the Americorps as a Summer VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America) at Somers Middle School (SMS). For 90 days, we have operated as the heavily calloused hands that served to make our supervisor, Food Revolution Professional Robin Vogler’s, vision of the garden happen.

Our purpose in Somers was to transform the garden space into both a food production site and outdoor classroom with the goal of producing food for the lunches of students in the Somers/Lakeside school district.

As the kids are not in session until late August, one would think that the lessons would begin then. But Nope! School was definitely in session this summer. Instead of middle school-ers though, we were the students and we had excellent tutors helping us too, from our supervisor Robin to local farmers and community members willing to lend an equally calloused helping hand.

Throughout the summer, we grew and maintained the school garden, greenhouse, and hydroponic system, giving our time and labor to the soil and the people of Somers, MT. In our wake, the hydroponic system is up and running, 7 new garden beds adorn the garden, and the school’s courtyard boasts an herb garden and bean laden trellis.

What Lessons Did We Learn?

We learned so much during our 10 weeks about networking, farming in Northwestern Montana soil, and the joy of eating. Okay - maybe we knew plenty about that last one already, but this was a summer of good eating. The SMS garden will be harvested in the coming weeks and all of the organic vegetables will go straight into the school cafeteria. Robin’s nutrition classes will also utilize some of the produce in cooking projects, learning to incorporate fresh ingredients like kale, chard and squash into tasty recipes.

And don’t worry, when the cold sets in, there will still be vegetables growing in the hydroponic system Robin designed to furnish fresh lettuce year ‘round. Grant money supplied the funds for the building, hydroponic unit, lights, nutrients and seeds and the money that the school spent on the project will be offset by the cost of fresh lettuce for the salad bars.

Providing Fresh Wholesome Food For Students

Yes, that was the chief reason that brought us there. For two years, Robin has applied for and received Americorps volunteers to improve the nutritional resources for her students.

By growing in the garden, SMS can substitute commodity food with organic vegetables that are so local the students themselves harvest them.

Through projects such as these, students at SMS have learned to appreciate fresh foods and scratch cooking. Salad bars with fresh whole grain breads and soups are offered every day, along with an alternate hot food line and third grab and go option. Kids love having opinions and giving their opinions and SMS conduct taste tests and surveys to get students feedback- marketing and customer service figure prominently in their program which are key component of its success.

If you step through the back doors of Somers Middle School, you’re going to smell something - it’s not the beds of basil or the drying onions or even the rich compost. It’s a hearty scent that’s becoming more and more commonplace, a scent that once you’ve smelled it, you can’t stop. Look for a few kids ‘ooo-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing’ over a patch of thick carrots and you’ll probably catch a waft. Can you place it yet? It’s the smell of revolution.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve got a Food Revolution on our hands. Grab yourself a mouthful of something good and pick up a shovel. We’ll be out in the garden when you’re ready to join us.

About Katie Looney and Jordan Bryant, Summer VISTAs: Katie Looney was born in Albany, NY, the often misunderstood older brother of New York City. After finishing up her freshman year as a drama student at NYU and caravanning to the Midwest in her brother’s car, Katie wanted to know an unfamiliar chunk of the world that was beyond the reaches of her art school education. Working as an Americorps in Montana was the perfect supplement to her education as an artist. Newly fortified, Katie returns to NYU with a new palette and rejuvenated love for people - the primary reason she is an actor. Jordan Bryant was born in Hood River, Oregon, a predominantly agricultural area that is well known for its orchards and vineyards. Growing up in the Hood River Valley she developed a respect for farming and food production at an early age. After finishing high school she obtained a degree in Nutrition from Oregon State University, followed by a Master's degree in Human Nutrition and Foods from West Virginia University which she completed earlier this year before taking up the summer associate position as an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the Montana Campus Compact.


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