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Agricultural education to also fight food insecurity

Summit Township Elementary School students dig a raised garden bed at a kickoff event for the school's community agricultural partnership in October. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The 17 acres of outdoor space at Summit Township Elementary School are to be filled up with fruits and vegetation.

A schoolwide project kicked off last fall that had students build and plant gardens outside to grow crops such as apples, strawberries, lettuce and even Christmas trees.

The project was spurred by an initiative from the Butler Area School District, but David Andrews, instructional coach for student engagement with the district, said a $70,000 grant allowed the school to take on a project that would help fight food insecurity.

“The Moonshot Grant really was written for some of the food insecurity in the district,” Andrews said. “Some of the produce and agricultural product are going to come to Broad Street Elementary. Someday, we could have farmers markets at Summit.”

According to Chad Broman, principal at Summit Elementary, the school formed a development team last spring made up of staff and parents to come up with a signature project for the school. Students also filled out a survey about their interests and what they might like to do for a schoolwide project.

The large amount of outdoor space, coupled with the Moonshot Grant and what Andrews called a wide array of agricultural knowledge in the school, led the team to the idea of a new garden.

“We brought on our community partners, staff, local businesses to be part of our planning, school development,” Broman said. “Agriculture was our focus for all things, and the environment was a priority as well.”

The Community Agricultural Partnership at Summit (CAPS) is meant to teach students how to tend to plants and improve the environment, and also supply some produce to the school district.

The Moonshot Grant supports “big, bold ideas in teaching and learning, ideas that address the challenges and the opportunities currently facing young people, educators and caregivers,” according to its administer Remake Learning’s website.

Andrews said that, from the jump, many staff members at Summit were eager to help with the project. The students also had a great time at the kickoff event.

Since the kickoff event, teachers have been periodically taking students out to the gardens to take care of the plants, and incorporating the products into hands-on lessons, according to Andrews.

Broman said the gardens also have taught students problem-solving because they had to find a way to keep animals from eating the produce.

Andrews also said other schools could come to Summit to learn about agriculture.

“We see other schools in our district coming to visit campus to see how we ingrained agriculture into the curriculum,” Andrews said. “Really, the sky's the limit.”

At Monday’s meeting of the committee of the whole, Broman presented Summit’s progress on the project to the school board members. He told the board that the school development team made a three-year plan that adds new aspects to the agriculture program each year.

He said the school plans to construct a greenhouse using money from the Moonshot Grant, and the team has expressed interest in starting composting in the future.

“We have had nothing but positive input in it,” Broman said.

Summit Elementary School students participated in gardening activities in October for a kickoff event for the school's agricultural program. SUBMITTED PHOTO