(Posted July 7, 2022)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Learning opportunities are growing at St. Patrick School in London as parent volunteer Kathleen Ries spearheads the creation of a fruit, vegetable and pollinator garden on the school grounds.
The plan is to develop the garden in phases, starting this fall with installation of a berry patch and an outdoor learning center. Next spring, work will begin on a large in-ground bed from which most of the garden’s produce will be harvested.
A pollinator garden with plantings that attract birds and bees is part of the vision, as is a walking path that lets students and visitors travel through the garden space. Rain barrels, drip irrigation, compost areas, and an outdoor sink are part of the plan, too.
So, how did the idea for all of this come about? It was kind of a random thing, said Ries, who has three children who attend St. Patrick School. She and her mother also attended school there.
“I was thinking about how I can better use my gifts and talents to help the school,” she said. “Gardening is a hobby for me and an outlet. It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing around our house.”
She’s gotten her children and some of the neighborhood kids involved in tending her home garden, and that got her to thinking that if they enjoyed it, maybe other kids would, too. She reached out to Principal Deborah Adamczak, and the seed grew from there.
St. Patrick School is in the process of attaining a five-year accreditation with the Ohio Catholic School Accrediting Association. Within that framework, the catholicity goal is “caring for God’s creation.” Ries sees a school garden as a perfect fit as students plant, tend the garden, and share the food they grow.
The new garden will be called St. Fiacre’s Clover Grove, named for the patron saint of vegetable gardens. It will be located between the school’s Early Learning Center and garage, alongside the farm field St. Patrick owns adjacent to the school grounds.
While summers are thought of as prime time for gardens–as well as the time when school is not in session–Ries has a plan to make the garden relevant all year long.
“We will choose plant varieties that produce in August, September and October, like berries. We also will plant cold weather crops like lettuces in the fall, and we will put down a cover crop to prepare the beds for next spring,” she said.
A full-on summer planting is planned, too, with sunflowers, corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers and more. To keep students involved, Ries plans to start a children’s garden club that meets over the summer.
The opportunities for learning are abundant, she said.
“The students will be able to weigh, measure and graph their harvests. We’ll have them collect waste from their school lunches for compost. They’ll record the weight daily and tally the amount of food waste they were able to divert from the landfill each year,” she said.
Students can explore their creative sides, too, drawing and coloring pictures of seedlings and produce and writing poetry about what they observe.
Ries hopes to bring outside community members to the garden to provide enrichment sessions. Master Gardeners could share their expertise. The library could hold reading sessions in the garden. A representative from the health department could talk about healthy food choices.
“It’s such a great learning opportunity. There’s also a huge mental health aspect. It’s about getting your hands dirty, getting outside away from electronics–just being present where you are,” she said.
Giving back is factored into the garden’s potential, as well. St. Patrick church hosts community dinners. Ries said the students could donate extra produce for those dinners. Another goal is to host a garden picnic for the community.
Ries is thankful for the help she has received in getting the project started. Her neighbors, Les Barnhart and Lynda Heyl, have provided tips and tricks and space in their garden for experimenting. Barnhart, a Master Gardener, assisted with testing the pH of the soil at the school garden site. Mike and Linda Leach, St. Patrick Church members who sell eggs and operate a produce farm near Lake Choctaw, are sharing their expertise and ideas for lesson plans. Mike will be helping to install the drip irrigation and till the land. The Madison County OSU Extension Office has been out to the site to offer advice.
As for funding for the project, Ries and her garden committee have raised $1,200 in cash so far, along with many in-kind donations. Among them are soil from Allscapes, tools and gloves from Dwyer Hardware, a gift card from Walmart, plants from Shady Grove, and coffee grounds for compost from The Coffee Peddler. Wilson Printing & Graphics is printing custom-made thank-you cards for donors.
“We’ve applied for a $3,000 Whole Kids Foundation grant. We’re up against applicants from throughout North America. We’ll know if we got it on Aug. 2,” Ries said.
The committee welcomes additional cash and in-kind donations. The biggest needs right now are student garden supplies, student learning supplies, compost and rainwater collection equipment, and garden bed supplies.
Volunteers are welcome, too. This fall, the need will center around installation. The bigger need for volunteers will come next summer to handle weeding, monitoring for pests, and the like.
Anyone who would like more information about making a donation or volunteering can contact Kathleen Ries at (614) 203-6530 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
St. Patrick School serves early learning students and students in kindergarten through eighth grade.