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NC - Carson City High School

Carson City, Nevada

A big garden reaps a big harvest—and an even bigger love of learning

Does a garden stand a chance in a state that's almost entirely desert? It sure does—with the help of a grant from Whole Kids Foundation, some excellent planning, and hard work.

At Carson City High School, the special-needs kids and their community have worked to create something of a marvel in Nevada's arid climate. 73 raised beds, an orchard, and a full-size greenhouse are included in the complex. Reecently a cut-flower program was added to the mix as well.

"The funding from the Whole Kids Foundation was used very efficiently with wonderful results," says Karen Abowd, garden coordinator for the school. The grant money was allotted to purchasing seeds, plants, and fertilizer. The FFA (Future Farmers of America) was responsible for doing most of the strenuous work in the garden. But the rest was done by kids—lots and lots of kids.

"Most of the plants were planted and seeds planted by the special-needs children at Carson High," says Karen. "The tending, pruning, (and) transplanting occurred using from 1st through high school youth during classes and special field trips….We had well over 1000 youth come through the greenhouse projects. We were able to have one special-needs youth working there as a volunteer full time!"

Then students from more schools joined in the fun. "Grade-school Montessori and alternative high schools were contacted, and we had as many as 150 kids come through in one day, planting vegetables to take home!" Karen says.

From their hands-on time in the garden and greenhouse, the students learned valuable lessons in science, art, English, and more, and were given the opportunity to put it into practice. By working together, they benefitted enormously from the experience, "learning new skills and what sustainability means," says Karen.

"The combination of greenhouse management with groundsource heatpumps and solar panels, and composting; never throw anything away, learn to recycle. These were lasting memories that the youth continue to talk about," she says. "Watching the special-needs kids and hearing them talk about the greenhouse was the most rewarding of all. One special-needs child learned enough to be hired by a local garden shop."

The learning, the interest, and the pride that comes about from a project such as this is cause enough to celebrate. The bounty is icing on the cake--but what astonishing icing it is.

"The harvesting of the vegetables was done by high school youth," says Karen. "(They) were able to harvest and see 4000 lbs of vegetables that went to the local food banks."

The school can also be proud of the lasting legacy they're giving their students. Planting and working in the garden complex made such a positive impression on them that many return, outside of school hours, to work some more.

"You know it's working when students come back, after school and on their weekends, and want to volunteer. Not only because it's FUN! (But) because they understand that it's a science, an art, and they are helping the community," Karen says.