When family-owned Greenscape Gardens & Gifts wanted to find a host site for a community garden, general manager Jennifer Schamber proposed the idea to her sister Jill Loyet, assistant principal at Parkway Southwest Middle.
Once the formulated plan – to host a community garden at Southwest Middle – was approved, a partnership between Greenscape, Parkway and Circle Of Concern began. The goal was to provide a learning lab for students as well as a source of locally-grown produce for Circle.
“Are there hungry people in West County?” asked Executive Director Chris Pallozola. “Yes, there are.”
Over 2,000 people per month – an average of 27,000 people per year within the Rockwood, Parkway and Valley Park school district boundaries – receive food from Circle. While the nonprofit receives produce through other community gardens, Pallozola said the Southwest Middle garden is its first hands-on community garden relationship.
A garden grows in Parkway
“We introduced our garden plan to our students this past winter in their advisory class using a book named ‘Seedfolks’ by author Paul Fleischman,” Loyet said. “The book tells of 13 people of varying ages and backgrounds who transform a trash-filled inner-city lot into a productive and beautiful garden – and in doing so, the gardeners themselves transformed.”
In establishing its community garden, Southwest Middle joins two other Parkway schools – Green Trails Elementary and Northeast Middle. South High also is in the early stages of its own community garden, inspired by Southwest Middle.
At each garden, student participation is a key element of its success. Seventh-grade students at Southwest Middle designed the garden beds along with the industrial technology students charged with building them and the visual art students who painted them. As the project continues, various care and harvesting aspects will be woven into the students’ science, history and math curriculum, but, for now, volunteers are stepping in to help.
This past spring, Circle joined with St. Louis Composting to host an all-school assembly to discuss the project and educate the students on various aspects of seed-to-table gardening. This summer, Circle volunteers, like Jean Campbell, have been tending the garden. One of 350 Circle volunteers, Campbell has been involved with the garden since its inception a year ago.
On June 14, berries (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and blackberry), cantaloupe, zucchini, 20 varieties of tomatoes, eggplant, sweet potatoes and a wide variety of peppers (bell peppers, jalapenos, Serrano, purple beauty and habanero, to name a few) were planted – all donated by Greenscape. Also included in the garden are herbs to provide companionate relationships. When school begins in the fall, Schamber said cool season crops – including carrots, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, broccoli and cauliflower – will be planted and harvested.
Depending on winter conditions, food can be harvested as late as the end of December, Schamber said, with some overlapping between summer and fall crop bounties.
Loyet said of the community partnership, “We appreciate Circle Of Concern providing us with assistance to get us through the summer.” And she’s already busy planning and planting the garden’s future.
“This fall, we will establish a garden club so that students and staff representatives will take over the care and maintenance of the garden,” Loyet said.
She said Teton Science School, which conducts Parkway’s annual eighth-grade trip to Wyoming, will be educating approximately 16 teachers from Southwest Middle and a few from South High as part of the garden’s continued growth.
Just the beginning
A physical expansion of the garden also is in the works – building on an existing project.
Approximately seven years ago a pollinator garden was planted at Southwest Middle as part of campus beautification. Soon, a Monarch butterfly waystation will be added to encourage the production of successive generations and sustain their migration.
A shed will be added to the garden area as well, and the addition of a greenhouse component is a long-term goal.
“With our produce and soil fully funded by Greenscape, our financial commitment is minimal as compared to the labor intensity,” Loyet said.
And, in the truest sense of a community garden, there’s plenty of work to share.
With Greenscape and Circle each having outreach educational programs for clients to learn about gardening and promoting self-sufficiency, they say the partnership with Parkway is an exciting venture for everyone involved.
“Regardless of socio-economic class, the pride of growing your own food is profound,” said Schamber.
Pallozola agreed and added, “Having a child take ownership of what they eat may forge a lifelong passion for food.”
“When kids plant kale, kids eat kale. It doesn’t get much better than that,” Loyet said.
Neighbors helping neighbors
Children living in a Ballwin neighborhood have planted a community garden to benefit others in the West County area.
Kids from six families in the Westbrooke subdivision worked together in the backyard of Tony and Jennifer Hoskins, planting a variety of crops in four large, raised boxes. The group received a grant to build the beds, and Greenscape Gardens and Sherwood’s Forest Nursery and Garden Center donated the plants.
“They donated probably $500 worth of plants – tomatoes, different varieties of peppers, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, squash, eggplant and sweet potatoes,” Jennifer said.
“The kids loved planting them, and later this summer, they will come back and pick the crops and donate them to Circle Of Concern food pantry. Hopefully, it’s going to be a good experience for everyone involved.”