COLUMBIA– Kelly Temporal squinted in the morning sunlight as she watched a tiller churn through the ground in preparation for Ridgeway’s new community garden.
Although it’s currently just a rectangle of dirt in the corner of the school's north field, the garden will soon be filled with fruits and vegetables grown for school cafeterias and neighborhood dinner tables.
The garden, a 70 by 120-foot space, will also be an outdoor classroom for both Ridgeway and Hickman High School. There, students will get their hands dirty growing produce and learning about soil and plant growth.
On Tuesday, the first clumps of earth were turned over before lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and other fresh produce are planted in the next few weeks. Over time, the garden will be a space for neighbors and students to grow food and learn about science and agriculture.
Temporal is part of a Girl Scout project that will teach both Ridgeway students and community gardeners about composting and worms.
She stood in the field and watched as Ridgeway fourth-grader Erin Robinson, 9, dug the first shovelful of dirt out of her school’s grassy lawn. Next year, her class will learn science from the compost project.
The Ridgeway garden is a first because it will be both a school garden and a community garden. Half of the garden will be a shared outdoor classroom for Ridgeway and Hickman. The rest is open to community members who apply for plots.
“We think it’s the only one in Columbia and even in the state,” said Michelle Baumstark, community relations coordinator for Columbia Public Schools.
The community-school collaboration was the vision of Ridgeway Principal Ben Tilley. Because it takes more than just a tiller and a few shovels to make a garden grow, Tilley enlisted the help of the community to make it happen.
He joined forces with the Boone County Health Department, the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, the Columbia Garden Coalition and PedNet.
“One of the best practices is the community garden,” said Maureen Coy of the Health Department. Gardens provide easy and inexpensive access to fresh produce, helping to fight obesity, she said.
Coy and Adam Saunders of the Center for Urban Agriculture have been working together to address the lack of community gardens and make it easier to put more gardens on public land.
The two co-chair a PedNet action team that has been helping Tilley plan the garden and engage the community and gardeners in the project.
Before he could put his plan into action, Tilley needed money for necessities like fencing, a garden shed and a water line. He applied for a $5,000 Lowe’s Corporation grant and received funding earlier this month.
“Without the grant, it would have just been a small school garden,” Tilley said. “With the grant we have the ability to expand the size and include Hickman and the community.”
Brett Kirkpatrick, a Hickman English teacher, is working with Tilley until he has enough money to start his own small garden at the high school.
“I’m trying to learn from Ben," Kirkpatrick said. "He’s got great vision.”
Tilley plans to use the garden in the elementary science curriculum and grow fresh vegetables that could eventually make their way onto cafeteria trays.
“We would love to grow some cherry tomatoes for our salad bar and maybe some cucumbers,” Tilley said. “Eventually we would love to plant some fruit trees and bushes that the community can share.”
The goal is to have food ready to eat by the school year, Saunders said.
Even though the school year is ending, Tilley will continue working and planting through the summer.
“Ben can make it work just through sheer determination,” Kirkpatrick said.
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