By Kim Underwood from Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
In her classes at Hanes Magnet Middle, Jennifer Flanagan challenges students to come up with local solutions to global problems.
Two years ago, Kiran Kapileshwari, who is now a freshman at Atkins, decided to start a garden on the Hanes campus that could be used to feed people in need. He enjoys gardening at home with his parents and grandmother, when she visits, and thought that growing food would be a good way to help others.
Last year, fellow student Connor Danelson, who is now in the eighth grade, joined him in tending the garden.
“I thought it was a cool opportunity to contribute to the community and I might pick up some skills at gardening while I was at it,” Connor said.
Today, that idea has grown into a club that includes 30 or so members, and the garden has produced enough food to fill about 200 plastic grocery bags of food that have been distributed to people in the community.
On Thursday, Kiran came over from Atkins Academic & Technology High to join the Hanes students working outside in the garden in the courtyard.
“Last year, it was two kids – me and Connor,” Kiran said as he watched students bustling here and there. “This is wild.”
Kiran’s mother, Stephanie Pellet, was there with him.
“It’s really beautiful to come back today and see it has grown into a garden club,” she said. “Kiran wants to start a club at Atkins.”
Eighth-grade McKenna Trull was one of the students working in the garden.
“I like gardening,” she said.
At the moment, they don’t have a garden at home, she said, so participating in the club is good way to help others while being able to garden.
“It’s really relaxing,” she said.
Sixth-grader Dahlia Villaneuva likes to work in the dirt and to be around plants. She likes gardening at home and at school.
Sixth-grader Laura Gardner and her family have a big garden at home where they grow vegetables and lots of herbs such as rosemary, oregano, and thyme.
Some students also went inside to plant plants in a hydroponic garden recently set up in a hallway.
Sixth-grader Sebastian Vermitsky has his own hydroponic garden at home. He became intrigued after seeing an exhibit at a museum about ways in which plants can be grown. He did research into hydroponic gardening and received one for his birthday.
He has been growing herbs, chili peppers and tomatoes.
He has been enjoying working in the gardens outside the school.
“It’s a great way to contribute the community doing something I like to do,” Sebastian said.
Sixth-grader Liam Flanagan said that, with his mother, Jennifer Flanagan, being an adviser for the club, he would be at the school in the afternoons anyway. But he has discovered that he enjoys working in the garden.
During the summer, he would also come over with his mother to tend it. He particularly enjoys harvesting carrots.
“I like how they look when you pull them out, and I love how they taste,” Liam said. “And I love carrot cake.”
In addition to helping others in the community, Flanagan said, the garden club helps connect the students to world.
“This is a hands-on project where kids can understand where their food comes from,” she said. “It’s been wonderful watching this thing blossom.”
She hopes that, one day, they will be able to expand the program to include having students deliver some of the food they have grown to the families that will be using it.
For now, in addition to working after school one day a week, students have taken on such daily responsibilities as watering the plants in the four raised beds in the courtyard, such long-term responsibilities as keeping a log of what was planted and harvested, and such intermittent responsibilities as writing thank-you notes to nurseries and other businesses and individuals supporting their efforts.
Trisha Prevette, who teaches sixth-grade math, serves with Flanagan as an advisor for the club. She got involved with the garden when Kiran asked her whether she would be willing to help build the first two raised beds.
It’s a great project, she said. “The kids can see that their work can contribute to the needs of others.”
The food harvested from the garden includes sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, green beans and basil. The food is distributed through HOPE of Winston Salem.
Stephanie Kennedy, who is president of the Hanes PTA, has been active in the project from the beginning and made the connection with HOPE, which stands for Help Other People Eat.
“HOPE of Winston Salem is very dear to me,” Kennedy said. “For HOPE, Hanes is a source for fresh produce when many summer gardens have stopped producing. Our school is in a community that benefits from what HOPE offers. Feeding students and their families on the weekends is a beautiful thing.”
“My hope is that the students fall in love with gardening and continue to garden through the years. I also want them to realize that the four small beds they maintain have a huge impact on the community. Science is everywhere. For me, it’s just a little bit more fun when you are in the sun with dirt in your hands and worms around your fingers.”
“Kiran wrote the original microgrant as part of his seventh-grade solutions project with Ms. Flanagan. I wrote a second grant where I requested $700 and received almost $1,100.”
“The grant was a crowd-sourcing grant through SeedMoney. People review your grant and determine if they would like to give to help fund your grant. All the grants on SeedMoney site are garden-related and are located all over the world.”
The hydroponic farm was established by Jim Weiss, who teaches science at Hanes.
“I have wanted to do one ever since I saw one of them 10 years ago while teaching in London, England,” Weiss said. “It fits with our efforts as a STEM school to show innovative ways to solve the complex problems of global warming and feeding our growing global population.”
“Many experts believe that hydroponics, which can conserve space and decrease the use of pesticides, is the way to go for the future production of food.”
“We received a grant for $500 from the Forsyth County Farm Bureau last year.”
“Since, then I have had to learn how to do this in a practical way inside of a middle school. Most of the funds went to purchase the expensive grow lamps. The rest of it was used to buy the supplies to build the frame of piping. I put it together in my garage over the summer.”
“I have a brown thumb in general, and my first attempt at growing plants from seeds failed. But, just as I tell my students, you learn best from your failures. I am hoping to improve our methods and turn my brown thumb green. I tell them that this is my ‘science fair’ project.”
What does he hope that students get out of it?
“Our students will be in charge of monitoring the growth of plants and experimenting with different amounts and types of fertilizers and grow lamp methods. We also plan to have a solar panel power the pump system by the end of the year. Hopefully, we will continue to add to the system year after year.”
The garden project has received lots of help along the way, Kennedy said.
“Kiran’s parents, Rajesh Kapileshwari and Stephanie Pellet, spent many hours in the courtyard as did the entire Lipe family to make the garden a reality,” she said.
“The Winston Salem State University football team helped us with man hours and manpower to get our second set of beds ready for spring faster than expected. Ms. Flanagan has devoted many hours to make Garden club successful this year. I know when I am not there next year the club and courtyard will be in great hands.”
“In addition to the SeedMoney funds a third grant was written through Garden Club Council of Winston Salem and Forsyth County to help purchase the blueberry bushes.”
“I went through the Master Gardener program when my eighth-grader was a newborn. I have loved gardening all my life. This project has been a joy and very rewarding to me. We have received calls from other schools in the district who want to follow the model and get a garden going on their campuses.”
“I plan to organize an informational meeting for all interested schools to come view our courtyard, see our plan, meet a HOPE representative and get assistance with writing grants to help feed more people and make gardening fun for our youth.”