by Michele Collins
Ledgeview Elementary Principal Kristen Cottrell was looking for a way the school could give back to the community at the close of the 2020-2021 school year. The answer came in the way of a community garden, whose produce was donated to the Emergency Assistance Center in Northfield for people in need.
Melinda Varian, vice president of the Ledgeview PTA said the PTA board was asked for ideas of how the school could help the community. She said the board felt “a community garden would be a great addition to our school as well as a perfect contribution to our community.”
Cottrell said, “I was hoping to get it up and running in a year or two. In true Melinda style, she took that idea and made it an instant reality.”
The school was fortunate to receive donations of topsoil and plants from Nordonia Landscape Supplies LLC, Petitti Garden Center and Savarino Brothers.
“Throughout the summer, several volunteers helped to keep the garden watered and maintained so that at the start of [this] school year we were able to start harvesting from our garden,” said Varian.
She added that the garden produced tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, lettuce, green beans and cucumbers. The school community also grew herbs, celery and onions this year.
As a way to involve the whole school with the garden, Ledgeview held an Earth Day celebration where the students germinated plants from seeds in their classrooms.
“The garden produced some beautiful vegetables in the fall and we were able to make several sizable donations to the Emergency Assistance Center,” said Cottrell. “The kids really enjoyed seeing everything grow every time they saw the garden.”
Varian said she also put together an after school garden club for second- through fourth-graders that focused on teaching gardening subjects and enabling the students to help with the garden.
By the end of the 8-week program, more than 50 students had attended one of more of the garden club meetings.
Varian became known to the children as “the garden lady,” and often saw students out in the community who recognized her. She also made an effort to share the garden’s success with students while she tended to the garden during school days.
“As the children walked down the hall to their specials, they could see me through the window. I would hold up some of the vegetables or even show them the tiny toads that were in the garden,” she said. “I really wanted them to see what was going on in the community garden.”
“I think it’s great that our students have the opportunity to learn about gardening and help people in our community,” Cottrell said. “I hope we can continue to plant and harvest from our garden for many years to come.”
Throughout this summer, Varian and a group of parent volunteers will maintain the garden. However, they are in need of plants to put in the ground. Last year they used over 150. The group is also looking to acquire rain barrels and soaker hoses. Donations are welcomed.
Once the students return to school, they, along with a group of devoted parents, will use their green thumbs to help others in their community. ∞