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Summit’s garden program addresses multiple community issues

A program at Summit Township Elementary School deserves high praise for both addressing food insecurity and getting youths interested in agriculture.

The school has 17 acres of outdoor space that are filled with fruit, vegetables and even Christmas trees.

The schoolwide project involved students building and planting gardens outside to grow crops, such as apples, strawberries and lettuce. It came about through an initiative from the Butler Area School District, but was made possible by a $70,000 Moonshot Grant to combat food insecurity in the district.

Food insecurity is defined as being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

According to the Children's Defense Fund, a nonprofit focused on the well-being of all U.S. children, more than one in seven — or 10.7 million — American children were considered food insecure prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children will likely have a very difficult time succeeding in school if they are distracted by hunger stemming from an inadequate food supply in their homes. So, it's great to see the school district confronting this urgent issue.

Some of the produce grown in the garden will go to Broad Street Elementary, and it's possible that Summit could someday have a farmers market, said David Andrews, instructional coach for student engagement with the district.

Another important component of Summit's initiative is that it possibly creates interest in agriculture among students.

"We see other schools in our district coming to visit campus to see how we ingrained agriculture into the curriculum," said Andrews, who added that the school also plans to construct a greenhouse using money from the grant.

Agriculture is the state's top industry, employing more than 500,000 people and making up about 18% of its economy.

But studies in recent years have shown that the industry is failing to replace its aging workforce, and that an employee deficit of 75,000 people is expected over the next decade.

The number of state agriculture workers in their 20s and 30s has dropped from making up more than 50% of the total number of agriculture workers to about 40% over the past two decades.

So, Summit's program combats two extremely important issues that address the well-being of its students and the well-being of the state's top industry.

It's a win-win for the school district and county, and we wish it great success.

— NCD