Greendale - Greendale High School students are growing their own lunches this year, at least in part.
Tomatoes and other vegetables plucked from the school garden are supplementing a new, healthier menu that meets guidelines of the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kid's Act of 2012. Processed foods are giving way to an emphasis on having more vegetables and made-from-scratch meals, nutrition consultant Barbara Nissel explained.
Planting seeds, pulling weeds and reaping a harvest from eight raised garden beds will help kids connect with the more nutritious foods that are showing up in their hot lunches.
Student led the effort
The community garden started two years ago, the brainchild of a freshman student.
The vice principal loved the idea, but didn't know enough about gardening to get the garden going.
That's where special education teacher Heidi Hennessey comes in.
"He found out that I'm a Master Gardener volunteer," she explained. "My training was through the (University of Wisconsin-Extension) program. I had a wealth of information that I was able to access. They needed to know what to grow when, what to grow early and what seeds to use. I helped them get in the direction they needed to be going."
The raised gardening beds were constructed, and the vice principal, the student and Hennessey - with the help of several community members - cared for them throughout the summer.
Hennessey projects that between 15 and 20 percent of school lunches this year will benefit from the garden.
"It kind of all evolved, and the timing was perfect," she said. "The school district was looking at things that will improve student health and how to make the lunch program more nutritious. There's this whole movement of growing gardens and school gardens, where the idea is that you can have the freshest vegetables the closest to where you use them."
But the garden is more than a source of nutrition. It's helping strengthen minds, as well as bodies, as it presents hands-on learning opportunities for students.
Advanced Placement culinary students will use herbs grown in the garden to spice up their class projects. Elementary students get to watch seeds grow into plants that bear fruit and eventually die, helping them witness their science lessons firsthand.
There are many possibilities for the garden's future, Hennessey said. "We're looking at doing a composting system within our gardening area. That's one of our big priorities right now, and we hope that there is a young man who is looking at it as an Eagle Scout project. We'll be looking at taking scraps that the kitchen is discarding, having a separate bin for students to put their apple cores or carrot ends and putting those scraps into a compost pile which will be used in the garden."
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