Laurie McGill doesn’t mind at all being known as the “worm lady.” In fact, one day last week she was at the Old School Arts and Learning Center, teaching youngsters ages 5 to 12 how to properly care for the red wrigglers they have growing in a special black box at the school.
These tiny composters are part of a project that will teach kids how to grow, and eat from, a garden. Louise Perreault operates this learning center which is located in the former Curran School.
For Louise, teaching children about gardening has always been a dream. “Growing a garden is very hands-on,” she said. “I think kids learn better when they can do a project and then see the results for themselves.” However, the lack of funds put her dream on hold-that is, until this spring.
Louise and her school are the recipients of a $3,600 grant from Security Health Plan and a $200 donation from the Master Gardeners of the North. Security Health Plan allotted $100,000 for this program, resulting in 50 mini-grants they gave away to schools and community-based gardens throughout their 36-county service area in Wisconsin. “We are so excited about this,” said Louise. “This money will give us a good start in establishing our gardens.” The $200 that was donated from the Master Gardeners is slated to be used to purchase apple trees.
The grant money will be used to buy lumber for a raised bed, and Louise would like to build a second bed that is elevated off the ground so children can be eyeball-to-eyeball with their veggies. Soil will have to be purchased, along with kid-sized tools and seeds. She is also hoping to squeeze enough from this budget to build a small shed for storage.
There’s also another reason why Louise wants a slightly higher bed for one of the gardens. The kids in her school frequently visit the Oneida County Senior Center and they would like to invite those friends to come and enjoy the school’s garden. “If we have a little higher bed, then a person in a wheelchair can enjoy what we are growing, too,” she said. “And people won’t have to bend over to work in this garden.”
Louise figures close to 25 kids will have the opportunity to enjoy the gardens throughout the summer months. And once the produce starts coming in, the kids will learn how to prepare it and even be able to take home whatever isn’t consumed at the school.
The worm project will also come in handy. These tiny critters will provide “worm tea,” which is a favorite for plants. Even now they are composting everything from newspapers, to coffee grounds to watermelon, which happens to be some of their favorite food. Laurie, who is also a member of Master Gardeners of the North, comes to the school a couple of times a month to show the kids how worms play an important role in making the soil fertile and loamy for gardeners.
This week, I’ve included a recipe Louise shared with me that is a favorite at the school. The students love mixing up the ingredients and baking this fragrant bread, and they will surely be even more excited when they can make this recipe with zucchini that is picked from their own patch.
I’ve always believed that there is no finer classroom than a garden and that these places bring people together in a very special way. I know that will be the case this summer, when little ones will be planting their seeds and tending to their plot. Hopefully, they will come away with a skill that will stick with them their whole lives through, while providing healthy food for themselves and their families.
Apple Zucchini Loaf Recipe
- 11/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 jar (41/2 ounces) diced apple baby food
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbs. canola oil
- 1 cup finely shredded zucchini
- 1/4 cup quick-cooking oats
- 1/4 cup flaked coconut
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 Tbs. butter, melted
- Dash ground cinnamon
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Drain apples, reserving juice. In another bowl, whisk the egg, oil and reserved juice. Stir into dry ingredients just until blended. Fold in zucchini and apples until moistened. Pour into an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Combine topping ingredients; sprinkle over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.