This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of Northern Gardener.
“Plants have been a great way for us to build relationships with the students and for them to connect with the school,” says Rochester Alternative Learning Center (ALC) Principal Gordy Ziebart about the ALC Green Thumb Initiative.
ALC works with students who are under-served by the community, helping them earn a high school diploma and find a career path.
The gardening club is co-taught by science and English language arts teachers, Liz Quackenbush and Katy Sloan. “Those two make the whole thing work,” says Gordy.
The garden boasts apple trees, grapes, honeybees, a watering system, a shed, and raised bed vegetable gardens. The students start the plants from seed, and the hallways are filled with portable shelving units and grow lights starting in March. An extensive summer school program lets students garden for school credit, volunteer or community service hours. Students take the produce home to their families, but they grow enough for the school’s home economics’ classes and to donate to a local food shelf.
Activities, such as salsa tasting, pumpkin decorating and an “Iron Chef” competition make the program fun and educational. In the Iron Chef competition, three local chefs teamed up with three student sous chefs each; they used produce grown in the garden to make delicious dishes. More than 100 people attended the competition. Everyone at the event tasted samples of the culinary creations.
“The garden has helped kids develop work skills and expose them and their families to healthy food,” says Gordy. “It’s helping kids make the choice not to eat fast food.”