Jackson Elementary School in Elkhorn receives state grant to start school garden

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Andrea Anderson
Sunday, April 13, 2014

ELKHORN—A student thought he was pulling weeds in the school's garden only to learn the “weeds” were onions.

Some students tasted vegetables they've never had before.

Many watched seeds emerge from hiding in the dirt to sprouting and growing stems and leaves.

Such learning experiences are what Eileen Wilson and other Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation officials hear from schools across the state that have received the foundation's Seeds for a Healthy Tomorrow grants for starting or expanding school garden programs.

Jackson Elementary School will be among several schools in the state to expand and incorporate nutrition and healthy lifestyle education into the curriculum through activities such as planting, weeding and harvesting a school garden.

The school in March received a $2,000 grant from the foundation. It also received $400 from Fiskars for tools.

“(We're) very excited that we have something to get started,” said Carrie Storlie, art teacher and member of the school's grant committee.

The goal is to transform the school's overgrown courtyard into an attractive garden and reading space with plants, flowers, and benches--all with the help of students, staff and community members.

Storlie said the plan is to prepare the area this summer and fall for next spring's planting season.

“Instead of going out there to plant for the sake of planting, we're going out there to plant and watch them grow, watch them develop,” Assistant Principal Ben Kitslaar said.

Wilson, the foundation's executive director, said schools that incorporated gardens into their curriculum have seen more community involvement. Parents, gardeners and other community members often work with schools in maintaining the plots.

Kitslaar and Storlie said getting the high school involved in making benches and community members helping with the garden is an important goal.

Some schools use the food during the academic year or summer school, Wilson said. Others have donated to food pantries and day care centers. At other schools, volunteers and school staff have been canned and frozen produce.

Storlie said she would like to see the school use the produce or allow for taste-testing lessons for students to try fresh produce. The food might also be donated to food pantries or Jackson Elementary families in need.

This is the second year the Wisconsin Medical Society gave money to multiple Wisconsin public schools for garden programs.

In 2012, the foundation donated $13,900 to 12 schools out of 26 applicants. This year, the foundation donated $15,487 to 13 schools out of 20 applicants.

The foundation began donating money to public schools for garden programs in 2009 when a Madison School District elementary school asked the foundation for money to start a program. The school was given about $2,000. When the elementary school followed up in 2010 with a review of the program, foundation officials saw its benefits and wanted to expand.

“So much of health and how healthy you are is not just determined by what they can do in the clinic. There are so many other factors," Wilson said. "This is a way to reach out to patients outside the clinic and encourage them to practice and in the case of students to learn healthier habits, and a garden tends to incorporate a lot of those different aspects."

Any public elementary or middle school can apply for a garden program grant. Grants range from $500-$2,000.

This year, the foundation asked school health insurance providers to help fund the grants. WEA Trust, Elkhorn School District's health insurance provider, donated money for the 2012 and 2014 grants.

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