Seed to Seed: Riverway Learning Community Gardening Project

Final Report for YENC08-001

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2008: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Manager:
Jacqueline K M Paulsen
Riverway Learning Community
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Project Information


We worked with students aged preK-12 and instructors to involve them in every stage of the growing process – from seed to seed. The intent was for each classroom to focus on only one crop so instructors could become familiar with the growing cycle, and so students could experience the growing cycle from beginning to end. We saved seeds from squash, watermelon, tomatoes, flowers, pumpkins and red and yellow onions.

Riverway Learning Community is a school committed to sustainability in its vision. Gardening, and the growth cycle are part of our curriculum. Students regularly received botany lessons and participated in school gardening.

* Students will explore the relationship between producers, consumers, and decomposers – including the connection between social systems (our school) and the system of the garden
* Students observe the components needed for successful growth.
* Students will identify the impact humans may have on natural systems.
* Students will observe the importance of recycling in ecosystems.
* Students will experience the entire growth cycle from seed to seed.
* Students will observe the importance of diversification.
* Students will recognize that living things need space, water, food and air.
* Students will observe components of the natural living system of a garden.
* Students will identify structures and functions of plant growth.

In a broad definition, we want students to experience healthy food at the height of flavor and nutritional value directly through the school cafeteria and classroom and provide them with the skills to grow food for themselves and their families.

1. Engage students with tasting – have students pick one crop for upcoming year
2. Actively compost cafeteria and school waste
3. Plan garden space with students
4. Begin and care for starts
5. Transplant and care for starts
6. Harvest and enjoy often! Invite families and the community
7. Preserved with students
8. Collect and store seeds
9. Provide curriculum that is connected with the activity. For example, discuss producers, consumers, and decomposers when compost is used in the garden, or discuss the impact of social systems on natural systems after storage and harvest.

It is important that there is institutional support for a project like this. It is a way of living, not just a lesson, and the academic lessons must be seen as a support for the hands-on experience. Our gardening does not exist in isolation; instead it is woven into the culture of the school. Students take pride in their work and literally, enjoy the fruits of their labor. This is the selling point for academic lessons such as botany nomenclature.

It has also been extremely important to have the support of our food service program. Supporting compost in the cafeteria is time consuming. The food service made our commercial kitchen available for food preservation, and the director was willing to design menu choices around the produce that was available.

Lea Karlssen, the hired horticulturist, was a key contributor to this project. She worked with every classroom two times a week to establish a baseline for the project.

Six Learning Leaders and eight Learning Leader Assistants supported the project through curriculum support, gardening with students and families, communicating to families, harvesting, composting, preserving and preparing food.

Nadine Bayer from University of Minnesota Extension provided curriculum support for nutrition.

Sara Nelson filmed and documented the current story of Riverway and our approach toward sustainable living.

Bruno Borsari, from the Winona State University continues to be an advocate for our organization.

Families of Riverway students were involved in the Seed to Seed program through our Saturday School Program, in which families cleaned, and prepared garden spaces.

Smith Community Gardens allowed students to participate in farm upkeep and harvesting.

Fred Krause, the Food Service Director at Riverway supports composting and has designed a menu to use the produce grown at the school.

Every classroom successfully gardened and saved seeds. Students participated in sustainable agriculture by providing food for themselves and other members of the school community. There was a decrease in food costs due to the amount of organic produce we harvested. The cafeteria continues to use preserved food throughout the winter months, avoiding the environmental costs of transporting foods. Students also experienced, first hand, the relationship between the social community of the school, the food needs of the school, and the need to nurture an ecosystem to provide for those needs.

There was an increase in school lunch participation during this program. Students expressed excitement and enthusiasm about eating produce they grew.

Awareness of proper composting increased – students became more mindful of what was being put into the compost at breakfast and lunch times.

This project reached about 100 students aged preK-12th grade. About 70% of this population is at or below poverty level. About 30% of this population is considered special needs learners. A portion of the seeds that were saved went home to families for home gardens.

This project has inspired the administration of the school to continue to work towards our vision of growing food for the school and its community as part of the curriculum. The harvest was overwhelmingly successful. The student involvement had a positive impact in many ways: We observed students willing to eat and try fresh fruits and vegetables from our gardens, there is an increased participation in our school lunch program, instructors are energized and excited to begin the next growing season, and we continue to network with like-minded organizations. Based on our experience gardening for our cafeteria we expected these results. We would recommend involving the students in all aspects of gardening – choosing what to grow, planning garden space, watering, harvesting, preserving, composting. Besides that, to keep it simple! There is enough going on in one cycle of growth to study for an entire year. This is more for teacher support and encouragement than anything else.

Our Saturday School, on April 25th, involved 80 students and fifty family members of those students. All involved help to clean and prepare our gardens. About once a month, family and community members are invited to share food in the Riverway Cafeteria – in which there is food from the gardens and composting.

Riverway has documented this project at, both through the actual website and through the Riverway Current – a family newsletter.

The director, Laura Krause, has shared details of this project at the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, the Frozen River Film Festival, and the Association of Green Schools.

Student teachers from both Winona State University and St. Mary’s University regularly help with gardening.

Around 100 students were exposed, on a day-to-day basis, to the cycle of gardening and food consumption.

One way an organization like SARE could really help a program like ours is through consulting resources and connections. It seems that the more like-minded organizations and people we meet, the more sustainable our program becomes.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.