Schools dig in ahead of gardening season
Dell Rapids Elementary plans seven raised garden beds
March 11. 2014 1:15PM
Baltic and Dell Rapids are getting into the gardening game with both communities and their schools planning new garden projects when the ground finally thaws.
In Dell Rapids, city officials are moving forward to establish a community garden while educators at the elementary school are busy readying to build a 280-square-foot garden on some unused green space along the south perimeter of the school building.
The 185-foot by 35-foot community garden planned in Baltic is the brainchild of teacher Danielle Eszlinger’s second-grade class.
Ground Works, a non-profit organization that provides resources to teaching garden programs, is helping Dell Rapids Elementary Principal Jay Nelson and his garden committee develop a master plan and obtain the necessary funding to see the project through.
Cindy Heidelberger Larson, Ground Works director of communications, said Dell Rapids’ teaching garden will enhance learning in all areas, from math and science to networking, coaching and building leadership skills.
“It really benefits every level of the growth process that’s taking place,” she said.
The committee plans to build raised beds, seven 4-by-10 foot plots, as well as compost bins.
But it won’t be just a garden. Nelson envisions an inviting green space with benches and tables, as well as a tree or two for some needed shade.
Although Dell Rapids’ learning garden will be used only by the school district, the community is still rallying around the project.
The Dell Rapids Lumber Yard will donate the materials needed to build the garden beds. A $1,000 grant from Modern Woodmen of America and $786 in donations from civic groups like ESA, Move Forward and the Lions Club have also been raised.
“We brag on Dell Rapids,” said Rev. Tim Olsen, Ground Works executive director, referring to the community support. “This is what we dream of.”
The garden committee hopes to build the beds in late April.
Second-graders worm their way into a community garden
For Baltic second-graders, it all started with the worms.
Their teacher, Danielle Eszlinger, inherited compost worms and a bin from a Platte-Geddes teacher who was leaving her classroom position.
As expected, if you give a class a bunch of worms, they’re going to want to grow plants. If they’re growing plants, they might even want to design a 185-foot-by-35-foot garden. If they grow a garden, they might want to give the community access to fresh produce.
“This is going to make a big difference so that people can have food,” said Baily Teveldal, 8. “We get to help the Baltic community garden be a better place so people can volunteer.”
Along the way, the second-graders have become knowledgeable scientists and have learned skills in math, vocabulary, speaking, social studies, teamwork and problem solving.
The student-led project began last fall, when the second-graders started saving uneaten vegetables and fruits off their lunch trays to feed the worms. They have learned how the entire life cycle of the red wiggler worms works, and they use scientific vocabulary to talk about how the worms eat, discard waste and have babies.
They have lots of fun but are serious scientists, wearing white coats that once served as men’s dress shirts.
“Watch out for the fruit flies,” student Madelyn Larson said as the class opened the worm bin to a swarm of the flies feeding on the rotting fruit. Students showed and explained the three layers of the box, including where the worms live and where the waste is collected.
They have a class PowerPoint presentation in which all students, no matter their ability, have a speaking part. They’ve shown their project to the school board, and they’ve taken it to a city council meeting for approval on expanding the existing community garden by 70 feet.
Along the way, the students have teamed up with Christ Fellowship Church, which planted the original community garden, and they’ve asked volunteers to support them with time, materials for the garden and money to buy other items such as treated wood for the raised beds.
Today, the school will receive $2,500 through America’s Farmers Grow Communities, by Monsanto. Area farmer Dorothy Rogness won a contest and designated the money to the second-grade project.
Other volunteers have helped with donations and hands-on work, too. Volunteer master gardener Steve Sikorski has guided the students in building their first raised beds, teaching about measurements, tight angles and power tool safety.
Students get involved in all aspects of the project, but with a variety of jobs to do, they also gravitate to what interests them most. Some like the carpentry work. Others talk about nutrition. Everyone gets excited about the worms.
Gibsen Eszlinger, 8, likes so many things, it’s hard to choose his favorite. “I like to play with the worms ... and research ... and read books ... and look on computers,” he said.
Hannah Dosch, 8, is excited to grow plants, starting in the classroom next week with mini greenhouses and watching the process all the way until those vegetables and fruits start producing. “You can pick the plants and eat them whenever you want,” she said.
Mari Biehl, the Platte teacher who now works with several South Dakota Innovation Lab schools as the science, technology, engineering and math coordinator, stops by the Baltic school regularly and likes the results of the project.
“It engages them because they are dealing with a real-world problem, and they’re going to make a difference in their community,” she said.
For Eszlinger, the project has given her students a chance to see their ideas through from beginning to end, to find an issue and contribute to their small town, and to understand the bigger picture of how learning helps in making decisions.
While a lot of work is going into the community garden — a reading area and butterfly garden, in addition to herbs and vegetables — the students have traditional classroom lessons, too.
“This is a small part of what we need to do in the classroom,” Eszlinger said. Yet it’s a project she hopes can be passed down to next year’s class and other upcoming students.
That’s the long-term plan, but students have some immediate work to do and issues to solve.
They’ve already thought out how to get the summer watering and weeding done. First, they are encouraging and organizing anyone of any age and ability to volunteer. That’s why they decided on raised beds, so even people who use a wheelchair would be able to pick produce.
But they have another cadre of support in mind, too.
“We want to get kindergarten and first grade and a lot of grades to do this work,” said Delaney Hefty, 8. “We thought that summer rec kids could do this, too.”