The garden – under the guidance of WEC staff – was planted, cultivated and is tended to by as many as 100 students throughout the year.
The origin of the garden can be found two years ago in a WEC science class. Education Assistant Kathryn Pierce recalled observing a teacher speaking about global warming and how it affects the crops we eat. At the end of the class a student raised their hand and asked, “Where does lettuce come from?”
“So we talked about it and said, ‘if he’s asking the question, a lot of other students probably don’t know where a lot of things come from,’” Pierce said.
Shortly after, they set up small gardens in plastic kiddie pools where students grew lettuce and spring mix vegetables.
After observing the success of the garden, and realizing the multi-faceted benefits it had on students, WEC staff recognized that it was time to “go bigger.”
In spring, District 287 was able to secure a Tool Box Grant for $5,000 from Lowe’s home improvement stores to establish a proper garden for the students.
Students in woodworking classes constructed garden boxes, a fence was built and dirt was brought in for a mid-May planting.
Marian Saleh (center), 16, of Eden Prairie, harvests kale at District 287’s West Education Center in Minnetonka Oct. 9. Also pictured are Erik Grinde (left), of St. Louis Park and Demarcus Anderson of Hopkins. The kale harvested by the students was used as part of the daily vegetable in the school’s cafeteria that day. (Sun staff photo by Brian Rosemeyer)
Fast-forward to October and rows of plump cabbage, colorful bell peppers, rich green onion and leafy kale are being harvested daily at WEC.
On the morning of Oct. 9, 18-year-old Demarcus Anderson, of Hopkins, carried a large silver bowl overflowing with produce through the halls of WEC to the school’s cafeteria.
“We have a delivery for you,” WEC social studies teacher Jason Reese said as Demarcus handed the bowl off to Head Cook Orneary Rogers.
“Let’s see what we have,” Rogers said as she examined the fresh kale, cabbage and green onions. “No bugs, right?”
Students Anna Sochko, 16, and Erik Grinde, 16 both of St. Louis Park, then strapped on pairs of rubber gloves to help Rogers clean the morning’s harvest.
Rogers uses the produce from the garden to prepare lunchtime salads and dishes for students and staff at WEC. With the food she received on Oct. 9, Rogers cooked steamed cabbage with green onion, green peppers and a touch of kale.
Reese, who spearheaded the garden at WEC and helps students maintain it, said having the kids grow their own food, collect it, clean it and eventually eat it provides an important connection that has become increasingly lost in recent years.
“The other thing about this garden is that it’s important for the kids to understand where these things are coming from,” Reese said. “We’ve become so detached from our food and the food system has been so messed up for the last 40 years.”
Marian Saleh, 16, of Eden Prairie, picked a batch of kale that was used in Rogers’ daily vegetable that morning.
Saleh said the garden has not only taught her why it’s important to eat healthy, but also how to eat healthy and enjoy it.
WEC Head Cook Orneary Rogers, left, cleans green onions harvested from the school’s organic garden. Rogers used the produce from Oct. 9 to make a steamed cabbage dish for the cafeteria lunch. Also pictured are Erik Grinde (center), 16 of St. Louis Park, and Marian Saleh, 16 of Eden Prairie. (Sun staff photo by Brian Rosemeyer)
“Some of the vegetables I normally wouldn’t eat,” she said. “Kale, to me, isn’t that good, but when it’s prepared right, I like it a lot.”
A number of the vegetables from the garden are also used in the WEC’s culinary program. Reese said many people don’t eat vegetables not because they don’t like them, but because they are unaware of how to prepare them in flavorful and healthy ways.
Grinde has taken a strong interest in the garden, and uses lessons he’s learned throughout his entire academic curriculum.
“Usually we go out for about 20 minutes each day and make sure everything is looking good in the garden,” Grinde said. “We learned a lot about the plants from Mr. Reese. I think it’s a great program.”
Grinde said the work has spurred him to research the science behind why fruits and vegetables ripen and he plans on building his own garden at home next spring as well.
The garden has also sparked the interest of Sochko.
“Creating life is so beautiful,” she said. “I haven’t seen this at any other school, other than in a specific class you have to sign up for. Here, maybe I’ll be doing history and just ask if I can go with them to the garden, and it’s cool.”
Reese said the garden can also be applied in many academic realms; he uses it to enhance his economics lessons and faculty is looking at ways to integrate it with mathematics, such as predicting and planning yields.
A large bag of carrots is saved in a refrigerator at the WEC culinary lab for students to learn to prepare. (Sun staff photo by Brian Rosemeyer)
Pierce said it goes beyond learning as well.
“I think it’s very therapeutic,” she said. “I think it’s something they can use throughout their lifetime. Our kids, when they go home, they tell us they are starting a garden for their parents, grandparents or themselves.”
In light of the success of the WEC garden, the district is exploring establishing a similar plot at the North Education Center in New Hope.
Reese also said he hopes to work with other faculty in forming a district-wide gardening committee – gardens currently exist at South Education Center in Richfield and Edgewood Education Center in Brooklyn Park.
In the meantime, Reese expects the WEC to keep producing certain crops through autumn. And students have been pickling and canning produce so fresh food can be served in the cafeteria through winter.
“With this, the kids can actually understand where their food’s coming from and how to prepare it,” Reese said. “Basically, from farm to table, they can see the whole process.”
“And they’re very proud of that garden,” Pierce added. “And we’re proud of them.” Collapse this story