This month has truly been one of expansion! The network of people working together to make Growing Food and Sustainability a reality is growing everyday, as is our vision for a youth-led, community-based sustainability program. We are reaching out to our neighbors, engaging high school Ecology Club students, and exploring the idea of adding a third garden site at the Middleton Alternative Senior High (MASH). In the process of planning our Summer Program for middle and high school youth, we are finding ways to incorporate a wide variety of sustainability topics, including composting, water conservation, reuse of resources, and people-powered transportation. With spring right around the corner, it’s an exciting time in Wisconsin!
In this early phase of our organization’s development, we are using door-to-door canvassing as a primary tool for local outreach, community feedback, and resource generation. We set aside a few hours every weekend to walk around Middleton and engage our neighbors in a conversation about our project. The response has been incredibly motivating! We’ve met master gardeners, teachers, community activists, parents, and even a dietician. We’ve compiled an email list of 149 people. AND we’ve raised over $600 to support our work this spring!
Middleton’s Program Leaders, Gabrielle and Natalie, both served as president of the Middleton High School Ecology Clubwhen they were in high school, so it only makes sense that we would collaborate with this group of students! The Ecology Club decided to dedicate their spring semester weekly meetings to help us design the gardens, start seeds and take care of baby plants in the greenhouse, recruit more high school participants, and plan an event at the high school to highlight our program. What a great group of students to be working with!
We’re exploring a possible expansion of our program to a third garden site at MASH, the Middleton Alternative High School. Since this school has more available land, we’re hoping to site our “farm-style” garden here so we can grow a wide variety of annuals in a row crop layout. We think that this new location will be a huge asset to our program and to the students attending MASH. It will provide easier access to our program for at-risk students and will tie-in perfectly with MASH’s upcoming transition to a project-based model of education. Incorporating the gardens into this style of learning will keep them in use throughout the school year and will give students a hands-on opportunity to learn about sustainability and agriculture.
Expanding Solutionary Vision
We are expanding the idea of a “school garden program” to incorporate a wide variety of sustainability initiatives and opportunities for green business ventures.
We are building compost containers out of reused shipping pallets to compost all of the refuse from the garden and from all meals that we host in the garden. We are also partnering with Bloom Bake Shop, a local bakery, to pilot a bike-powered compost service. Starting in March, we will pick up their used coffee grounds and vegetable waste once per week, compost it at our garden site, and use the finished compost to organically fertilize the gardens. If this project is a success this summer, we will expand our composting operation to include food waste from the school cafeterias and other local businesses.
Water conservation will be incorporated into the garden through daily water use practices (such as not watering the gardens during the middle of the day) and through the use of rain barrels. A number of our workshop topics specifically relate to water conservation, such as how to conserve water at home and rain garden design and installation.
Growing Food and Sustainability incorporates art and creative expression through engaging projects and workshops, all of which focus on reused materials. For example, we will teach students how to weave coasters out of old magazines and how to create beautiful mosaic frames using old CDs. The coasters are also for sale on our website, with all proceeds supporting our program! $12 for a set of 4.
The program’s reliance on bikes as our primary form of transportation guarantees that students will be involved with people-powered transportation on a regular basis. We will transport all of the tools and supplies between our three garden sites by bike trailer, with students either walking or biking with us. We will also deliver produce to the local food pantry once per week by bike trailer, and students will be invited to join us for this group bike outing. These opportunities encourage individual use of people-powered transportation while simultaneously exposing our participants to the network of bike paths available within Middleton.
This summer we plan to pilot a raised bed home vegetable garden installation business at a local residence. Community members who purchase this service will be provided with a custom-designed vegetable garden based on their needs, complete sourcing of materials and plants, installation, and instructions on plant care and harvesting. We may also provide weekly maintenance for an additional fee. The ultimate goal of this project is to train and employ local youth in work that benefits their community while simultaneously increasing local food production in Middleton.
Expanding into the Future
Last week we received three part-time participant applications! We are looking forward to engaging these new team members in our work and to hearing their new insights and ideas for Growing Food and Sustainability. Our goal for the summer is to involve 5 full-time participants, 5 part-time participants, and 5 high school interns. If you are interested in joining our team, please apply online. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and stipends for full-time participation are available!