Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

March 18, 2012

Community garden will double as classroom

By Daniel Human
Tribune staff writer

— Gardens have a lot of educational potential beyond teaching horticulture, James Jakus believes.

Students from The Crossing Education Center, as part of a project co-managed with the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library, will cultivate and sell organically grown produce this spring and summer as part of a school program.

“The kids are learning farming, agriculture, horticulture, botany, and they’re also learning business and job skills because they’ve got to come to school and be presentable,” said Jakus, the teacher and project manager who is overseeing the program.

The school has received a United Way grant to help pay for supplies. The library has provided farmland at its South Branch to cultivate.

As part of the school and library’s partnership, the general public has been invited to rent garden plots.

The library will have a call-out meeting about the garden at 6:30 p.m. April 4 at the South Branch, 1755 E. Center Road.

Gardeners can rent 6-foot-by-12-foot raised beds for $20 each.

Renters will then be responsible for planting, weeding, watering and all other gardening responsibilities.

After harvests, the gardeners are free to do what they wish with their produce, said Peg Harmon, assistant director of the library.

Students, before planting season, will put together the raised beds for the garden. Then, they will plant the seeds and maintain their own plots.

Each participating student will handle all aspects of the garden — construction, planting, maintenance, harvesting, sales — vs. assigning specific duties to each person. That way, Jakus said, they all learn a little about everything.

Students have begun a similar project at another location. They have started clearing space along the Wildcat Creek to be transformed into usable land.

The Crossing is a year-round school, so students will garden three days a week through the summer.

“It’s going to be long days and a lot of work,” Jakus said, adding that six or seven students signed up for the program. “As we get going, I know more people are going to want to get involved.”

Once plants are ready for harvest, the students will sell them at the Kokomo Downtown Farmers’ Market. Revenue from the market will return to the garden project budget to sustain the program.

The class might also try to set up contracts to sell to restaurants, Jakus said.

If the program grows over the years and it earns more money than it needs to sustain itself, The Crossing also wants to provide the produce to nonprofits.

“I’m working with five, six, seven high schoolers who’ve never done this before,” Jakus said. “It’s going to be very special, very unique because these kids, who dropped out of high school, are going to be giving back to their community.”

• Daniel Human is the Kokomo Tribune business reporter. He can be reached at 765-454-8570 or at daniel.human@kokomotribune.com.