Edgerton students help fill gap in fresh food for local families

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Andrea Behling
Saturday, June 21, 2014

EDGERTON—After weeding among sprouts in the garden, David Swenson armed himself with a softball-sized handful of mud.

“Don't even think about it,” warned Swenson's teacher, Michael McCabe.

With a motive under his smirk, Swenson charged with the dripping muck ball as McCabe ducked for cover.

The atmosphere is playful at the Lyons Street garden, where McCabe's students work on a project that could benefit thousands of local people in need.

About a dozen students at the Edgerton Alternative School planted three 14-foot-by60-foot plots in Edgerton's Community Garden, where they plan to harvest 2,000 pounds of produce for the local food pantry.

They hope the community-driven effort will help people in Edgerton who otherwise might not have access to healthy, fresh food.

“It's huge for the families we serve,” said Edgerton Community Outreach executive director Sarah Williams.

Food pantries often struggle to find inexpensive sources for fresh food, Williams said. It's cheaper to keep shelves stocked with canned items.

Giving people healthier food options at the pantry is important, she said.

Produce donated to the organization's pantry totaled 3,357 pounds in 2013. The students' projected donation will weigh in above last year's top fresh food donator, Ken Kidder, who donated 1,238 pounds of surplus farm produce.

“We want to support the people in Edgerton. That's where the need is at,” McCabe said.

The community garden project will yield tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, kale, cucumbers, watermelon and squash. The project includes a plot at Silverwood Park, located at Silver Lane, Edgerton.

Edgerton Community Garden (1:23)

The project broke ground with help from the Edgerton FFA, UW Extension, Edgerton School District staff members and Edgerton Middle School students in Corey Livieri's class..

All seeds were donated, the majority from Christy Mardsen, UW Extension horticulture educator for Rock County. Harvest kicks in at the end of July and into August.

Until then, Edgerton Alternative School students including Swenson, who is a senior, and sophomore Izaiah Moore work three days a week to keep the plants watered and weeded.

Before this, Swenson said gardening definitely was not his thing.

“Now it is,” said Swenson, who started his own watermelon garden at home.

The group already has donated lettuce to the pantry, which served 1,062 people and 369 households in 2013.

“The drop-off was incredible to see the kids hand over the food and see the look of appreciation from the people at the food pantry,” McCabe said.

The plan is to keep the project going for years, he said.

Edgerton Community Outreach offers housing programs including rent assistance services and a thrift shop retail area. In 2013, the organization helped 519 people in 188 households.

The student project's donation isn't just a short-term benefit for Edgerton Community Outreach, Williams said.

The organization hopes to use the influx as an opportunity to teach families through cooking and canning classes how to use the produce.

“No matter who the student or volunteer is, the fact that they know they're giving back, I think that's huge,” Williams said. “There's value in seeing a product done and knowing it's benefiting someone else.”

As for the educational benefit for the students putting in time at the garden, McCabe said he feels good about the work they're doing.

“It's teaching them to be a community of providers and not just a community of takers,” he said.

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