Sowing the Seeds

Story by Dave Eckert

Winnetonka High School is growing. Literally. Thanks to a grant from Sprouts Farmers Market, Winnetonka is in the process of planting a garden-sowing-the seeds for a hands-on agricultural education.  “Last spring, April, I think, one of the ladies involved in the PTSA program forwarded me an email from Sprouts alerting us to a potential grant to build a garden. I flagged it, but got busy, and didn’t fill out the application till May,” Jared Barge, Assistant Principal and Activities Director at Winnetonka High told me. Barge said a couple of months passed when he received a call from Sprouts saying they were interested in learning more about the school and our potential plans for the grant.  “The woman I spoke with basically told me we were going to get the grant, $10,000! I’ve since applied for more funding, so in the end, it’s going to be about $15,000!”

During an on-line meeting with Sprouts in August, Barge says he was told Winnetonka was one of just 24 schools to receive the grant out of more than 2,000 applicants. Impressive. I asked Barge what the plans for the garden looked like. “It’s going to be a fenced area of 35 by 35 feet with 20 raised garden boxes inside. The plans are to grow primarily items that can be used in the kitchen: fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Students will plant, tend, and harvest the produce for use in our culinary and botany programs, and any excess produce will be donated to the community!” Barge shared.

Barge says all students will benefit from the garden, but the ones more actively involved will be in the Prostart culinary foods program. More than just a garden, there are plans for an outdoor classroom and a gazebo, and there will be efforts to bring other students from the North Kansas City school district on-site to share in the growing and learning experience.  “We plan on bringing in middle school students from the district to work alongside our students, so I’d say more than a thousand NKC students will directly participate in the garden,” Barge stated.

Barge says it’s still early days for the garden, which he hopes will be up and running this spring, but he and the students are excited, and rightfully so. “We have a long way to go, but when it’s all said and done, we’ll be able to teach our kids a lifelong skill. Either from the culinary or the botany side, you’re helping students get hands-on learning, which could help them decide what they’d like to do later in life,” Barge said.

Barge told me they are taking things one step at a time, making sure everything is done properly, and the money is utilized in the most efficient manner. “We’re working on fencing right now to protect the garden from wildlife in the area. And we’re applying for additional funding to pay someone to oversee the program,” Barge told me.

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