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New Edible Garden Fosters a Growing Sense of Community

Friendly Hills Middle School
Mendota Heights, Minnesota

Girls Tending GardenThanks to a $1,000 Game On Grant from Action for Healthy Kids, sponsored by ALDI, the “friendly farmers” at Friendly Hills Middle School in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, will soon be enjoying the fruits – or, more accurately, the vegetables – of their labor.

The school formed the Friendly Farmers club to give students who weren’t part of its traditional club offerings an opportunity to get involved in an activity outside of the classroom that would foster a sense of community and give them hands-on experience in a new area. Members were tasked with planning, creating and maintaining an edible school garden, and the produce they harvested would be used in health and science classes for nutrition education, in taste tests of healthy foods that may not be a regular part of students’ diets, and to supplement the canned food the school sends home with students in economic need as part of its Backpack program.

The club was able to purchase lumber, soil, seeds and gardening tools with the grant funds, and in Fall 2017, members worked with faculty and volunteers to design and construct four outdoor raised-bed gardens around the school. Even though the students have yet to see a single sprout, they’re already invested in the experience.

“I watched the students take immediate ownership of this project when they were simply constructing and filling the garden beds,” said science teacher Patrick McCormick. “I’m certain the project will help students get excited about growing their own food.”

The Friendly Farmers plan to plant their first crops in Spring 2018, with three beds dedicated to growing vegetables and the fourth serving as a sensory garden that all students can enjoy. One parent is planning to provide seeds, another is in talks with the garden center where she works to donate a fruit tree, and many others have expressed interest in helping to plant, maintain and harvest the garden produce. Christopher Hiti, Friendly Hills’ principal, said the PTA is very supportive of the project and excited about the increased sense of community it is bringing to the school. He also credits the garden with providing a valuable learning experience for members.

“This will be an excellent opportunity for our students to witness the growing cycle and become involved in the growing and harvesting process,” he said. “They will be studying many of the processes involved, and I think they will be very excited to watch things grow and get to the table.”

In addition, classroom teachers will be able use the garden to give kids physical activity “brain breaks” during the school day, and students in the school’s three center-based special education programs will have the opportunity to take sensory breaks there as needed. All of the gardens were planned with wheelchair accessibility in mind.

But before all of that can happen, Friendly Hills is planning to hold a taste test for students and their families during AFHK’s Every Kid Healthy Week in April to determine what the club should plant in the garden. The Friendly Farmers will give the families a tour of the garden beds and explain their plans for the future.

“The healthy food taste test will be a perfect way to help kids decide what to plant and hopefully pique some interest in the project,” McCormick sad. “I see the garden having a long-lasting role in building healthy relationships in our community.”