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ACGC students planting for district's fall lunch program

Nicole Krumrie, a junior at ACGC, plants potatoes Monday in the school's garden. For the second year, ACGC students, also seen at top, are planting a large garden on the grounds of the high school. The produce will be used in the district's hot lunch program this fall. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

The heat Monday was a welcome change in the weather for a group of Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City students and teachers who had waited through a week of wet weather delays to get seeds in the soil of the school district's oversized garden. More than 20 volunteers, including students 6-18 years of age and a handful of adults, dug in with roto tillers, hoes, rakes, spades and pure grit to plant vegetables and fruits in a garden that's about an acre -- or nearly the size of a football field.

Eighty pounds of seed potatoes as well as carrots, on-ions, garlic, dill, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melons were planted by volunteers who showed up at 8 a.m. Monday in Grove City to stake out the long rows and begin planting.

This fall -- if there are timely rains, warmth and minimal weeds -- the produce from the garden will be served up in the ACGC hot lunch program.

"Fresh food is better for you than frozen food," said Tianna Genzler, an ACGC 11th-grader, who will be serving as the student produce manager when the crop is harvested this fall.

"I taste the difference during lunch. I hope the others do," said Genzler, while taking a short break from raking a mound of soil over a long row of potatoes.

The garden was started last year through a two-year grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Program.

Despite a cold wet start to the growing season last year, students harvested 2,500 pounds of produce from the garden that was served in the cafeterias at the ACGC junior-senior high school and at the two elementary schools.

Signs let kids know when food was being served that was raised in the school garden to get the word out that nutritional food can be raised locally.

Baked potatoes were a big hit last year, said Michelle Hansen, the FFA and ag instructor at ACGC. She said it was the first time some students had eaten a fresh baked potato.

That's why the potato section of the garden more than doubled this year.

The success of the garden last year helped bring out more students to help this year.

"I'm happy with the crew that showed up today. There are a lot of hard workers," Hansen said. "There's more involvement and a little more excitement."

Some of the students who were planting on Monday had been involved with the garden last year. Some of the students are involved in FFA or the school's Youth Energy Summit group. Members from the Acton Buzzers 4-H group also volunteered.

For some, however, this was their first time of planting a garden.

"I learned there's a lot of hard work. It's not old lady stuff," said Jasmine Nieto, a 10th-grader." "It makes you actually think somebody did a lot of hard work to grow food."

Nicole Krumrie, who will be an 11th-grader this fall, had not planted a garden since she was a little girl. After learning to operate the tiller and plant potatoes, Krumrie said she wants to persuade her mother to re-establish that childhood vegetable garden.

The benefit is simple. "Fresh food is so much better than canned," said Krumrie, who said processed food is "gross."

"They value it so much more when they've helped plant it," said Tami Bennett-Tait, who supervises the YES team, and coordinates the garden project. "They're learning how to till and hill and row."

Alex Rudie, an 11th-grader, liked being part of the project. "One more hand really does make a difference," said Rudie.

Jacob Peterson, an 11th-grader, said it's "kind of cool" that ACGC is able to have a large garden to grow food that's used in the cafeteria. Spending the day doing physical labor was also better than "doing stuff on a computer or watching TV on the couch."

The state grant money helped the district purchase basic garden equipment and will pay to extend a water line closer to the garden this year. That, along with seeds purchased by the YES team, will help keep the garden going in the future after the SHIP grant ends.

Besides the garden produce, 20 apple trees planted this spring by the landscaping class will provide additional lunchroom food in four to five years.

Bennett-Tait said additional items are needed for the garden, including cattle fence panels that can be used for vine crops. Donations for the garden can be made by contacting Bennett-Tait at the school.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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