We have a winner! Santa Fe High School’s Green Monsters won the Golden Shovel Award from the Florida Department of Agriculture for “Best Revitalized Garden.” Here are excerpts from their application, prepared by teacher Ryan Pass. Thanks, Ryan, for the inspiration!
The Santa Fe High School Monster Garden is an idea that really took flight this school year. Our group is known as the Green Monsters, and the students are all students with disabilities, most of whom are on the Access Points curriculum. Access Points is a modified curriculum for students with cognitive impairments or significant disabilities that prevent them from being successful with the standard state curriculum. Students construct and operate the garden during their science class, and some work in the garden during a Career Preparation class. At the beginning of the year, we took full control of a small garden that was composed of a total of five 4 ft. x 8 ft. raised beds that were overrun with weeds taller than a person. Throughout this school year, our students have constructed and maintained a garden space in excess of 1500 square feet with approximately 600 square feet devoted to growing plants, and the rest walkways. This increased area provided a large blank canvas to allow more student work space than in previous years, and it provided more space for greater crop diversity. Students have constructed 4 ft. x 8 ft. raised beds and trellises. They have moved soil, installed mulch, started seeds, transplanted seeds into larger pots, and planted seedlings in the garden.
Currently we are growing three varieties of cucumbers, numerous herbs, green beans, snow peas, lettuce, Swiss chard, carrots, beets, spring onions, scallions, yellow squash, zucchini, scallop squash, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, and several varieties of tomatoes. We also have marigolds, miniature sunflowers, a red banana tree, and two pear trees. In the past we have grown collard greens, mustard greens, kale, kohlrabi, radishes, turnips, sugar snap peas, and cabbage, as well. We grow our plants from seed to harvest. Most of the seedlings we grow are sent home with our students or provided to our financial sponsors at no cost to them. We choose what to plant based on requests from sponsors, personal preferences, and to experiment with new or different foods. Our students have the opportunity to sample foods they have never seen or tried before, and they get to take home fresh produce regularly. Carrots and snow peas are the favorites, as they almost never make it far from the garden before they are eaten. We are planning to build a compost area and plant a berry patch with blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries very soon.
Teachers collaborate to create lessons that complement the work in the garden. For instance, through their Math class, students worked to measure out the garden plot and calculate perimeter and square footage. In Science, students learned the process of photosynthesis, and they can determine which fertilizer to use for different situations or conditions. In History class, students studied about the history of farming in America and how the industry has developed over time. Many of our students take a specially designed Health and PE course (HOPE) where they have used our produce to make salads for their periodic “feasts”. Our Career Preparation program also utilizes the garden as one of our on-campus work settings for students to learn skills and responsibility. Students process requests for plants or produce and deliver them to people across the campus. Additionally, our students designed and created signs depicting the names of our sponsors and signs with their own monsters on them to place in and around the garden. Financial sponsors sent in their design requests for their signs, including color and wording, and our students had to read and fulfill the orders and then ensure that the final products matched the orders.
Our Green Monsters are recognized and appreciated across the school campus. They are proud to wear their Green Monster t-shirts every Thursday, and several members of the faculty and staff, as well as one student not in the program, have their own shirts. More people want shirts, but we ran out! Many people around the school visit the garden just to grab a handful of fresh produce for a healthy lunch. When our school was up for Accreditation this year, one of the programs our school chose to feature was the Green Monster program, and members of the Accreditation team made sure to visit us.
Our garden is financed by generous donations from faculty and staff, funds provided by our school principal, and by community businesses who have provided us with plants and materials for free or at a discount. The Farm to School program sponsors 64 square feet of our growing space. The food grown in this space is provided to the school cafeteria for use in school lunches. We have provided lots of lettuce and collard greens to the cafeteria so far. To sustain our program in the future, we will continue to seek “Monster Sponsors” to provide us with financial support, we will continue partnering with Farm to School, and we plan to expand into fundraisers such as selling seedlings that we grow and care for, selling t-shirts, as well as canning and selling pickles (which our students are very excited about). As this school year winds down, I have many students asking how they can join our program next year. I sure hope we can grow our program to accommodate them!
Through programs like the Golden Shovel Award, with exposure from local media, and with community support, we hope to shine a positive light on our program, our school, and on programs for students with disabilities in general. We hope that the positive exposure will not only help our program to continue in future years, but maybe serve to provide encouragement to other schools considering adding a school garden to their campus, especially those who wish to serve students with disabilities.