With the sun shining, local officials and Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Terry Alban kicked off their shoes, celebrating the school system’s new partnership with a local nonprofit that hopes to teach students a little about where their food comes from and nutrition.
At a Thursday kickoff at Waverley Elementary School, several spoke of the benefits of the MyPlate Garden Initiative, led by the nonprofit Seed of Life Nurseries Inc., which hopes to install mini gardens at each of the county elementary schools.
The MyPlate term recalls a federal initiative launched in 2011, when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released the new government icon of healthy foods, the MyPlate, emphasizing holistic and healthful choices.
Elementary school students will learn a bit about growing fruits and vegetables, said Michael Dickson, known to most as “Farmer Mike,” the CEO of Seed of Life Nurseries.
A year or so back, Dickson had set up something similar at The Great Frederick Fair: a large garden to showcase for the children. After the successful exhibit, he approached school system representatives, including Alban and Kevin Cuppett, executive director for curriculum, instruction and innovation, to pitch starting gardens at the schools.
Both took to the idea and expedited approval of the measure, Dickson said. As of now, the only garden is at Waverley Elementary, but Dickson said at least 10 others are in the works. He said that in the next few days, he will break ground on Waverley’s 14-foot circular garden.
As a part of the program, Seed of Life will also trek to schools during the year, with pigs and sheep in tow, to allow children to meet the animals and hear about how the food reaches their plate.
“We want the kids to know that your meats just don’t come from a grocery store,” Dickson said. “Our biggest issue in our community is the disconnect of food and nutrition and where we stand. We’re creating that connection.”
The list of crops at Waverley is impressive: tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, eggplant, kale, cabbages, corn, quinoa, peanuts, just to name a few, Dickson said.
Eventually, the children at the respective schools will decide what fruits and veggies to plant, Dickson said.
Elementary students will develop a digital magazine to highlight the gardening initiative, said Kimm Mazaleski, curriculum specialist for elementary science.
“We don’t think it will be limited to just digital or inside the classroom, but also hands-on,” she said.
Seed of Life staff will maintain the gardens, with help through their partners, United Way, The Great Frederick Fair, AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity and the Boys & Girls Club, Dickson said.
Establishing the garden and maintenance costs $1,000 annually per school, which will require partnership with businesses. The school system will provide no funding for the initiative, Dickson said.
“This is going to benefit the whole community,” Alban said. “I feel very fortunate that your vision, your passion and your inspiration is kind of like the seed that’s going to go in there, but it’s all of these people … that are really going to see this come to fruition.”