Mini pumpkins, peppers, tomatoes and a bounty of other garden delights attract a steady stream of shoppers at the Warren Farmers Market. The vendors, students from Summit Academy School for Alternative Learners – Warren Middle and Secondary, are creating a little bit of a buzz with their veggies, dried herbs and handmade wares. Bright blue flowerpots embellished with paintings of animated characters like Charlie Brown and Goku, chocolate-dipped pretzel rods and burnished wooden cooking utensils reveal the students’ creativity. Here, the fruits of labor and learning intersect.
Tenth-grader MacKenzie VanDyke, whose painted pots sell for $10, says she enjoys everything about the farmers market and the journey to it. Over the course of the summer, she and about 10 of her classmates planted and cared for a traditional garden, five raised beds and a pollinator garden on the grounds of their Moncrest Drive N.W. school.
Science teacher Sarah Thomas began the garden project last year as a way for students to receive hands-on lessons in science, enjoy the benefits of gardening and healthy eating, and generate a little income along the way.
“I envisioned the school garden as an interactive outdoor classroom in which students could engage in kinesthetic educational and therapeutic activities. And, they could also learn to grow their own foods,” Thomas says.
Thomas adds that much of Warren is considered a food desert, resulting in limited access to fresh, healthy foods. The school garden provides a remedy.
“It’s important to me to empower my students to live a healthy lifestyle,” Thomas says.
Sales from garden produce and dried herbs will go toward next summer’s garden project, which not only involves digging in the dirt, but striking a few yoga poses as well. Local certified yoga instructor Kyla Bossard of The Yoga Room led the students through yoga sessions during their garden workshops this year.
“Planting and caring for the gardens over the summer has gotten me outdoors more, which has affected me and my mood in a positive way,” says VanDyke, who adds that in addition to embracing gardening, the experience has inspired her to create more art. Her painted pottery, along with baked goods, have tallied about $100 in sales so far. And that’s just for starters.
VanDyke and her Summit Academy classmates will be selling garden goodies, home-baked treats and handmade arts and crafts at the Warren Farmers Market at 170 N. Park Ave. on September 29 and October 6 from 3 to 6 p.m.
“Providing youth with opportunities to be engaged in their community shows them the power for positive change that they hold as individuals and the power that we hold as a community when we come together,” Thomas says. “An empowered community is a resilient community.”