Growing delicious food and learning about healthy food choices is now part of the South Winneshiek Middle School hands-on learning experience. While school was not quite fortunate enough to be one of the pilot garden schools through Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative last year, that didn’t stop them from starting a garden on their own. Recently, adviser Sheryl Holien applied for $100 grant for apples from Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness. The apples will be used for school lunches as well as teaching students how to make healthy snack choices, like fruit salsa.
One spring Kristin Kriener’s Extending Learning Program students, namely Hanna McGee, Christina Nesvik and Jaden Severson, pitched the idea of planting a garden. And it took root. After the students did their research, they discovered they could significantly reduce the school’s carbon footprint by providing local produce. Their adviser Kriener, in associated with Sheryl Holien, sought help from garden guru David Cavagnaro of Decorah, who suggested raised beds to help with frost issues. Kriener’s husband, Joe, then built three raised beds near the elementary playground. Reilly Construction donated and filled the garden with dirt. A team of inspired gardeners planted radishes, green beans and purple beans, onion, and tomato. The tomato plants, grown and nurtured from seed, were donated by Jerry Balik of Spillville. Student Madeline Moore has been busy keeping a photo diary of the garden process.
PK-8 Principal Barb Schwamman explains, “Our Food and Fitness Initiatives have been great opportunities for our staff and students to emphasize healthy living habits. Most importantly, our students are growing and eating fresh, locally grown foods from our school garden and learning about it in their classrooms. Our students are willing to try new foods and we are confident we are making a difference with the students making healthier choices.”
The garden is a huge success, “We have picked 95 pounds of tomatoes for the school lunch program,” Holien explained. Students at both the elementary/middle school in Ossian and the high school in Calmar have enjoyed the fresh produce in their school lunches. Tomatoes were used in dishes such as soft tacos. They have also been served on salad bars at the high school, and have been set out and sliced for students to eat on their sandwiches. Teachers have used the garden project to teach about healthy foods in the classroom. Holien’s 7th grade Health students recently made salsa in their classroom, and were simultaneously taught how to use a knife and peeler safely, so that they can make the salsas at home. Additionally, Holien taught her K-4th graders about a plant's growing process (from seed to plant), and talked about making healthier choices by eating locally grown produce whenever available.
As the gardeners begin to dream of next year, advisers plan to see continued growth in the garden adventure by adding an even more varied produce line that can be used for both school lunch and education. South Winneshiek is raising awareness about growing and eating healthy food, teaching the relationship between people and nature, and illustrating the connection to a healthier life.