Do you have a green thumb that has been itching to dig in the dirt? Do you aspire to grow your own fresh vegetables while being part of a community effort? Take a stroll along the "Pick It" Fence at the Northwest Community Garden at Northwest Middle School. Enjoy a juicy tomato. Check out the banana peppers.
Carroll County Public Schools received a $10,000 grant through Monsanto's America's Farmers Grow Rural Education grant for the greenhouse project that includes the community garden. According to Michille Caples, grant analyst for Carroll County Public Schools, "Local funds, fundraising, and donations added fencing, raised beds, pots, planting medium, and other amenities."
Bryan Shumaker, STEM coordinator for CCPS who served as the primary author of the grant worked with former Northwest Principal Angie McCauslin and Caples to develop the project. Caples provided logistical assistance.
"CCPS was nominated by local farmers to apply for a grant funded by 'Americas Farmers Grow Communities,'" Shumaker said.
Northwest Middle School was chosen as the site because many of the nominating farmers were from the Taneytown region. Shumaker and McCauslin worked out how the project would best benefit student learning.
David Watkins, principal at Northwest Middle said, "Teachers may use the Community Garden as an extension of their classroom instruction to provide students with an alternative learning environment with real world application, especially in science."
One teacher took the lead and was instrumental in getting the greenhouse up and running. Travis Coldsmith is an eighth grade Earth Science Teacher at Northwest Middle, having transferred there from New Windsor Middle School when it closed.
"The project gained momentum when Mr. Coldsmith transferred," Shumaker said.
Coldsmith became involved with the project because, as he said, "I saw the potential to give real world applications to current curriculum standards."
Coldsmith explained the "Pick It" Fence idea. A variety of plants including tomatoes, peppers, cucumber and tomatillos were planted along the outside of the fence so any member of the community could come and pick a variety of vegetables to serve their families.
Coldsmith credits the Class of 2021 for much of the hands-on work done so far. During the school year. The students spent a lot of time collecting lunch scraps and yard waste, constructed raised beds and moved the soil to fill those beds. The plants were all started in the Husky Greenhouse by students.
"Because of them, future classes will harvest asparagus, strawberries, blueberries and corn to give to families and compliment student lunches," he said.
Amber Sickle, a Taneytown resident, and mother of three, said she found out about the Community Garden when her daughter brought home a flier. Sickle reviewed it and said: "I then only took a second to decide I really wanted [to do this] for my kids and help the community with some fresh produce."
When asked what she hopes to get out of the program, Sickle said, "I really wish that not only will my kids learn about gardening but also learn patience, and appreciation for the beauty that hard work, time, earth, but most of all love that we can share with others." She said her girls love working in the dirt. She appreciates the time the volunteers have invested in getting the project off the ground when they could be spending time with their families.
Shumaker envisions a student-driven garden. One that "promotes our goals and engages students in authentic learning." The project is constantly evolving as it grows and more community members get involved.
"Our goals are to teach students about where food comes from, promote healthy eating, and provide food for students and families that are in need. The focus is mainly on how students can apply authentic learning in multiple disciplines during the school year," Shumaker said. He hopes the garden will "produce food that can be used give to students and their families and promote healthy eating."
As for expansion of the program? He sees it eventually expanding to Taneytown Elementary but there is no set time frame. Any extra food will go to the existing food banks at the elementary and the middle school to provide fresh resources in season.
"I envision the 'Community' part of the garden growing tremendously," Coldsmith said. "There is curiosity among the people that walk the school grounds, former students and parents, and also our faculty and friends. Once the 'Pick It' fence starts to ripen, I'm hoping people will take full advantage of it!"
This project could not sustain itself without the generosity and commitment of the community it serves. Local business donated to the project including Bowman's, which donated all the seeds. A local landscape company donated potting soil and mulch. Some plants came from the Carroll County Outdoor School Nursery. Tierra Blooms donated a lot of the "little things" needed to get started as well as a lot of great advice. Members of the Taneytown Community donated strawberry plants and tomatillos.
When asked about the donations the project is looking for, Coldsmith said, "We take pretty much everything, including leaves in the fall!" He also indicated that time is a great donation. "Get volunteer training from CCPS and help out in that manner," he said.
For more information on Americas Farmers visit their website at www.americasfarmers.com.
Gabrielle Schoeffield covers Taneytown, Union Bridge, New Windsor and surrounding areas. Reach her at email@example.com.