Students ‘diggin’ summer in Essex
School’s out for the summer, but that isn’t keeping several Essex students and teachers away from the district’s grounds. In fact, several mornings per week there is a flurry of activity with volunteers working on the district’s garden.
Located in the east corner of the high school parking lot, different tomato varieties, gourds, mini-pumpkins, cantaloupe, peppers, zucchini, and several varieties of berries have been planted.
Once harvested, the crop will be used by the district’s culinary arts program and school lunch program. The fresh fruit and vegetables not used right away will be canned or frozen to be used later. What isn’t needed will be donated to those in need.
Garden volunteer and freshly retired Essex teacher Tammy Johnson said the plan to have a district garden came about several years ago but was put on hold because of COVID.
“This is year three of the project, but we’re in phase one,” said Johnson. “This year our mail goal was to get things in the ground.”
Johnson said there are numerous positives that come from a district garden besides fresh produce. Students learn where food comes from and can take pride in helping it grow. Plus, they might make better food choices if they’ve put in the time and effort on a particular product.
She added there is something to be said for “dirt therapy” -- being outside in the fresh air and sunshine, working with your hands and forgetting about anything else for a moment. Working together on a collaborative project also builds relationships among the students.
“Not all life lessons are found in a book,” said Johnson.
Three volunteers at the garden Tuesday, July 12, were Emma Jo and Garrett Harris and Renly Sandahl, along with elementary teacher Robin Verkade.
The Harris siblings worked in the compost piles and then planted more tomatoes. Sandahl also planted tomatoes and was in charge of watering them once in the ground. Johnson was using the garden tiller prepping new spaces for planting.
This past school year, planter boxes were constructed by students in John Leininger’s industrial technology class.
Next year each class in elementary will decide what vegetable they’d like to plant in their own planter box and start the seeds. Plant stakes will be made during Friday Makerspace classes. The school’s horticulture and ag classes will help with larger garden projects.
Johnson said numerous community members have volunteered or donated toward the garden – one of the many things that makes Essex a wonderful community. Additionally, she said members of the Class of 2021 donated $2,000 towards the garden. The funds were from their junior prom, which they didn’t have due to COVID.