The Centerville Elementary School garden doubled in size this month after a former student connected the school with new grants and resources.
Celetra “CeCe” Hartford, currently a sixth-grader at Urbana Middle School, got started growing fruits and vegetables for hungry people at age 9 when she joined the nonprofit Katie’s Krops. Hartford is the only Maryland grower for the national organization and serves on its advisory board. After starting with one donated garden plot at Stone Barn Community Garden in Urbana, she now has three plots there and donates the crops to local food banks and senior centers.
“My mom and I were thinking how we could build another garden at the school, because it’s where we started,” said Hartford.
Last year, Hartford asked her former STEM teacher at Centerville Elementary School, Kimberly Baker, if the school would be interested in getting involved with Katie’s Krops. She also applied for the Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant, and the school was awarded $5,000 to revitalize its garden.
Thanks to the grant, the school now has eight garden beds filled with squash, potatoes, strawberries, herbs, cucumbers and more. Once the crops are ready, they will be donated to the Frederick Rescue Mission.
Baker started the school’s garden five years ago. Now, about 25 Garden Club students come to school early five days a week to work in the garden, harvest and package crops.
“This was primarily an agricultural area, and as our community has changed, students didn’t always know where their food came from or how to grow something,” Baker said. “It’s important because it entails a lot of science and math.”
Baker, whose husband’s family owns Deere Valley Farms in Dickerson, said farming gives her students a great sense of accomplishment and connects them with nature.
“Kids could be having a bad day and come in to Garden Club and by the time they’re back in class, they’re fine and ready for the day,” she said. “It’s a good way for kids to get out and be kids and learn at the same time.”
Hartford said what she enjoys most about gardening is seeing “how much people care” when she delivers the product of her hard work to those in need.
The 11-year-old was happy to see the elementary school students enjoying the new garden beds the day they were installed.
“I like to see them understanding how to garden and what it feels like to get down and clean and help grow and understand the meaning of what they’re doing,” she said.
Hartford says she hopes to acquire more garden plots in the future and continue to help more members of the community have access to nutritious food.
“This is what I dreamed it would be when we started,” Baker said, admiring the school’s growing garden. “I couldn’t have done it without CeCe and her mom.”