About the Gardens & the Gardeners

Photo by Earl Richardson

Photo by Earl Richardson

student gardeners

Each year, five students are hired from March through December to plant, tend, and harvest in the garden. These students are employees of The Merc Co+op, and participate in a rigorous hiring process to be considered for the job. Students must be 14, complete a Merc Co+op application, an essay and interest inventory, and join us for a day of work in the garden to demonstrate their work ethic. The positions are designed to develop student leaders. 33 students have completed the project since 2010. 

Continuing Education

After completing a season at the garden, students can reapply to become Mentor Gardeners. These students have demonstrated their reliability, work ethic, and dedication in the garden. They serve as examples to new gardeners.  

In 2017, a position was created to allow a high school student to continue with the project through their senior year. This Garden Assistant position is designed to support students interested in pursuing a career in a field related to the work we do in the garden. This year, 3 students continuing with the project were hired by CMEF as Garden Assistants: Elise, Alex, and Ruby.


Growing practices

Our gardens are designed to be as safe and healthful as possible. As a living classroom, we strive to create a welcoming, aesthetic, and safe environment for students.

We want students to enjoy the outdoors in a setting where we strike a healthy balance with nature, free from potentially hazardous chemicals and pollutants. As a supplier of the cafeteria, we garden sustainably and avoid the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, and follow safe growing and handling practices

What happens to the produce?

Our goal when the project began was to get produce to the students from their own garden. Over 3,000 pounds have been delivered to the West Cafeteria, and 4,000 samples of dishes created with ingredients from the garden were provided in 2017-2018. 

Beginning in 2019, the produce grown at West is donated to Just Food, a local non-profit that secures food through community donations by individuals, local retail stores, civic groups, businesses and other organizations to be distributed to residents of Douglas County.

All produce harvested at First Step goes directly to the kitchen on site to feed the residents and their children.