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2016 Challenge Runner-Up

Millersburg Elementary School
Millersburg, Ohio
Garden of Hope


Our school Garden of Hope has brought a renewed love of learning to my students who sometimes struggle with traditional academic paper-and-pencil tasks. Our gardens have provided hands-on learning opportunities that have helped my students blossom and grow like the vegetable plants they contain.

Our elementary school is in a small rural community with approximately 370 students (with a 43% free or reduced rate lunch population).The students who have developed and maintain our school gardens are all in special education with disabilities that include autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD, specific learning disabilities, cognitive delays, and speech and language disorders.

These core students continue to be ambassadors to the entire school when they share their knowledge they have gained through growing, planting, harvesting, and composting demonstrations; plant science experiments; planting and plant diagrams; garden development planning; and garden research in their regular classroom meetings and displays of their work throughout the building.

Our Garden of Hope is well on its way to developing its first season of produce. Our plants have been added to the raised beds with a trellis at one end to help expand our space vertically. We have lovely topsoil in the gardens that is receiving nutrients from our compost tumbler and worm composting system that help feed the plants in a natural and environmentally-safe way. This past spring, we also used indoor growing lights to start our seeds we planned to put in our garden to allow for an earlier harvest before school let out for the summer. This indoor light growing system literally lit up our lives as we watched our longed-for plants grow from seeds we planted with our own hands into viable plants we actually used in our raised gardens and donated to a local growing project.

Our students have benefited from our Garden of Hope in numerous ways, like training them with job skills for future employment and providing them with hands-on opportunities to develop their language and learning skills. One of the most important skills our school gardenhas helped to develop is a sense of accomplishment and pride in knowing that the plants we have grown and the produce they have provided has gone to help needy families in our district who rely on our local food pantries for their weekly meals.

To this point in the first year of our garden, we have been able to donate thirty-one pounds of produce harvested from our school garden to two local food pantries which some of our school's families utilize to have enough food to feed themselves outside of our academic day. Our students also saw the wide-spread impact of our Garden of Hope on our community as we partnered with a local food pantry to support a “Grow-A-Row” project where we donated our plants we raised to local gardeners who then volunteered to grow garden produce that they, in turn, donated back to the food pantry.

Our gardens and the supplies that have helped nurture them have shown our students that they have the power to change their lives and the lives of others. We are excited for the opportunity to use the monies from this grant to improve the productivity of our school garden and its contribution to our students and our community.

In this first year of our garden, we have learned two important changes we need to make to help increase our productivity. First, we learned that our garden receives only about four hours of direct sunlight each day . We chose the location of our garden to make it wheelchair accessible and close to our building for students who have difficulty ambulating longer distances. Our two raised beds are located in a small protected courtyard between two brickwalls of our elementary building. Unfortunately, because of these tall brick walls and the limited hours of sunlight our garden receives, the plants have grown excessively tall and thin resulting in plants that lean over and grow across the grass surrounding our raised beds.

To get the maximum production from our garden plants, we would like to use a portion of these grant monies to purchase plant supports that we could use to enclose our plants and help keep them growing tall instead of falling over. Second, we learned that we need a better method for growing plants for donation to our community “Grow-A-Row” project. Some of our plants that we transplanted from our growing trays into pots did not survive the move when they were given to our community members to grow. We would like to use the remaining portion of our grant monies to purchase biodegradable pots so plants can be started in these pots and not need transplanted. These pots can then be directly planted in the ground by our community members and preserve the root system for better growing and production of produce.

We want to thank you for your consideration of the Garden of Hope for the Green Thumb Challenge Grant. We are excited for the future possiblities our garden brings not only to our students, but also to their families and to our community.