Reds, oranges and greens dot the landscape north of Chadron Intermediate School, and students dart from one spot to another, thrilled with each new find in the school’s garden.
Created and planted through volunteer efforts, the intermediate school garden is producing buckets and bowls of fresh produce in its first year.
The project was a cooperative agreement between the school and Keep Chadron Beautiful. The local non-profit received two grants – one from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and one from SeedMoney.com – to kickstart the project. Partnering with the Chadron After School Program, Keep Chadron Beautiful reached its funding goals to build 36 raised garden beds. The garden site north of the school was selected because the area has underground sprinklers, reducing the work necessary for the garden.
In addition to the vegetables and fruits, the garden includes herbs and flowers, creating border gardens that attract native species and provide bird habitat.
“(It connects) all intermediate school children with the Earth and (we are) growing the next generation of Earth stewards,” said Jacki Dailey, Keep Chadron Beautiful’s education coordinator, in a press release.
“Jacki Dailey did so much for us over the summer,” said Principal Bill Cogdill, making sure the produce survived long enough for the students to enjoy a harvest when they returned to school.
This fall’s harvest had its start in the intermediate classrooms, said student Isaac Hartman. Each student was allowed to pick three types of seeds and started growing the plants indoors in milk cartons.
“We put them by the window in black plastic things,” Hartman explained. He chose cucumbers, green beans and peppers, all foods he likes.
Colin McCoy chose the same seeds as Hartman, and said the best part about the entire experience has been “eating it!” Mason Whitinger went a different route last spring, choosing watermelon, cantaloupe and beans.
The boys said they enjoy seeing the garden while they play kickball, and they have made trips to the garden for class, studying how many anthills they could find. The students in the After School Program have also worked on plant identification using the garden as an outdoor lab.
While Hartman has enjoyed the entire process, including eating their harvest, the best part for him has been the fact “that we could work together and make a big garden.”
As a group of third grade girls headed to the garden during lunch recess one day last week, they chattered about the joys of having fresh, school-grown produce that saves money for the school and teaches them how to grow their own gardens at home.
Much of the harvest takes place during lunch periods and recesses, with students accompanying Cogdill in search of cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkins and more, as sunflowers tower over them.
“100 percent” of the garden produce is used in the school’s lunch program, Cogdill said. Dailey made sweet and dill pickles from some of the cucumbers.
“We got to sample those in the classroom,” Cogdill said. One of the teachers also baked zucchini bread for her class using the intermediate school produce.
The garden and the enjoyment of the harvest have been well worth it, according to several students.
“It takes a lot of patience and hard work,” said student Delaney Jennings.
Back inside the lunchroom, Linda Bates said the produce has gone over well on the salad bar.
“The kids, they eat it up. We always let them know when their stuff is out there,” she said.