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MW - Wings Park Elementary

Oelwein, Iowa

Student enthusiasm boost school garden program

When Wings Park Elementary received a grant from Whole Kids Foundation, the money was allocated carefully to provide enough plants and tools for their four raised beds, each about four by eight feet. A portion of the grant money went toward the purchase of seeds, starts, gloves, gardening tools, and cooking supplies. The tools were carefully selected to serve the lower-elementary school children.

The summer school students at Wings Park jumped into the project with lots of energy. Over the course of the season they planted and nurtured produce such as kale and herbs, and learned the techniques needed to bring a harvest to fruition, "observing the cycle of planting from seed to plate," says garden coordinator Ashley Turk. And plate it they did. Once the produce was harvested, the students were treated to cooking lessons followed by the best part: eating up the beautiful vegetables they'd raised. Throughout summer and into the fall, over 200 children participated in the garden program. "Students loved the experience!" Ashley says.

Recently a FoodCorps service member held a workshop for Wings Park teachers, providing them with ideas on how to incorporate the garden into their course materials. The goal was to extend the use of the garden beyond the summer months, and make it part of the curriculum during the school year. And this summer, Wings Park will host its first garden intern. The intern will be in charge of garden maintenance throughout the season as well as help to teach gardening skills to the summer school students.

Two Wings Park staff members deserve special praise for their commitment to the school garden program and their hard work in helping to make it a success.

"Barb Schmitz, Wings Park school counselor, constantly goes above and beyond for her students," says Ashley. "She supported the garden from the beginning, and was crucial in scheduling summer school so each class could rotate through the space on a bi-weekly basis.

"The second champion is the Food Service Director, Frank Stammeyer. In past years, he has planted, cared for, and harvested garden produce on his own time," Ashley says. "He is also very willing to serve garden produce in school meals and advertise that to students!"

Wings Park has quite a bit of funds left over from the WKF grant, and has plans to expand the school garden space over the next three years. More supplies are called for—garden equipment and tools, seeds and starts, mulch, kitchen equipment, and more are on the list to purchase.

The garden committee now has over 25 members, which include "the FoodCorps service member, district staff, community members, and interested master gardeners in the area," Ashley says.

Ashley offers a favorite quote from one of her enthusiastic students, who sums up the joy of the program."'This is so fun, I wish we could do this every day!' This came from a fourth-grade student after we transplanted and watered our starts on a sunny day last June."