where gfgh began
The West Middle School Garden
The West Middle School Garden was where Growing Food Growing Health began. When the idea was first conceived in 2009 we could not have imagined how powerfully this garden would capture the support and attention of our community. The project, appropriately named “Growing Food, Growing West”, became a very visible symbol of what was possible--with school gardens, cafeteria food, youth employment, changing how young people relate to the foods they eat, teaching science, and community partnerships.
During the spring, summer, and fall we split the students into weekly crews working three-hour shifts early in the morning in summer and after school in spring and fall. Students take turns planting, watering, weeding, harvesting and prepping produce to sell to The Merc Co+op or West cafeteria.
100% of money earned selling produce goes directly back in to the project. In its first year the garden produced more than a half-ton of produce, with over 280 pounds of this going directly into the cafeteria for all West students to enjoy.
We're so thankful the West staff are incredibly supportive of the project.
Principal Brad Kempf, who began at West last year, said, "The West Middle School garden is so much more than a place where fruits and vegetables are grown and harvested each year. Our garden is a space where students and teachers can gather in a special learning environment for unique learning experiences. It provides a tranquil foundation where students can think, dream, and collaborate.
On most beautiful, sunny afternoons you can observe West students in the garden studying content, taking pictures of the garden plants, learning about gardening or just taking a stroll through on a class break.
Our school garden is more than just a garden. West Middle School, The Merc [and the Community Mercantile Education Foundation ] are partners in providing students this opportunity through the development of a garden that is a reflection of our school values."
By the end of our eighth season, in 2017, total garden harvest has exceeded 20,000 lbs, over 3,000 of which has gone to the salad bar at the school! This year alone we will sell around 2000 pounds to The Merc Co+op’s Deli, Bakery, and Produce Departments. Our garden size has doubled since 2010, a small orchard and small fruits have also been added.
Each season brings new challenges and learning opportunities. This year, with the heat and drought, our plants hit an unexpected lull mid-summer, but came back strong in the fall! Pest problems were exacerbated by those conditions as well, and we had more squash bugs than all of the other seasons of the garden combined.
The West Garden Project was planted in the very fertile soil of relationships. Non-profit Community Mercantile Education Foundation (CMEF) and sister organization The Merc Co+op, and Mainstreet Credit Union are the lead organizations of the project. Located in a largely residential neighborhood, The Merc Co+op is just two short blocks from West.
The 2018 GFGH Garden Crew
(beginning upper left to right: Ruby, Taisha, Elise, Mattie, Maggie, and Alex)