By Eileen Persike, Editor
Last winter, when the temperatures were below zero and the snow banks were piled high, Pelican Elementary School teacher Amy Rogers was thinking of spring. It’s not uncommon for anyone in the Northwoods to be dreaming of warmer days ahead in the dead of winter, but Rogers had something green and more specific in mind: a garden.
“I’ve always wanted to start a school vegetable garden at Pelican School,” Rogers said. “Having been involved with Newbold School’s garden in the past, I thought it would be a great opportunity for Pelican School as well. “
Northwoods LEAN (Linking Education, Activity & Nutrition) is a coalition that promotes a culture of healthy living through physical activity and nutrition in Oneida and Vilas Counties. Last winter the group offered garden based nutrition grant funds to schools, summer programs and after school programs that serve children. Rogers jumped at the opportunity; applied for and received a $1,500 grant to start a garden – the largest amount offered.
“Pelican School did a phenomenal job with the application,” said Community Health Specialist and LEAN coalition member Kyla Waksmonski. “One of our goals is to utilize garden-based nutrition interventions to increase the number of students who eat fruits and vegetables, and the Pelican staff is doing an incredible job of implementing this.”
The garden began as an open plot of land in the corner of the playground, and a pile of dirt. It was up to the oldest students at Pelican, the third graders, to rake it into shape. “There was just a big pile of topsoil and just our class and another class of third graders smoothed it out,” said student Brady Congleton, who has experience working in his grandparents’ gardens. While using the tools is Brady’s favorite part of gardening, he does like the fruits and vegetables that come from the hard work, especially one particular perennial. “I like growing rhubarb,” he said. “My grandma makes homemade rhubarb pie and it’s so good!”
Third grader Mya Krouze knows all about the steps of planting a garden; she has helped her mother with their garden at home.
Weeding is usually Mya’s job, but on this day she is planting tomatoes. “The best part is planting it and watching it grow and picking all the stuff,” Mya said. “Carrots and peas are my favorites.”
The garden is divided into four sections; one for each grade level at the school. Earlier this week, the first graders were charged with planting teeny tiny radish and carrot seeds, covering them with dirt and giving them a drink of water.
The long term goal for the garden based nutrition intervention initiative, according to Waksmonski, is twofold; that students will report eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and the school district will make policy changes that support increased student fruit and vegetable intake. In the short term, give students increased knowledge of healthy eating.
A volunteer signup sheet went home to all Pelican School families, asking for help with the gardening tasks over the summer. “We’ve had an awesome turnout and look forward to working together on this project,” teacher Rogers said. “I hope students will be actively engaged in the process of the garden. We are looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labor in the fall!”