The greenhouse at East High in Madison, WI sits empty, holding only potential when it should be full of students and flora. REAP Food Group will partner with the school to assist with basic improvement, supplies, and technical assistance. We envision the greenhouse as a place where students – especially those with disabilities – can learn about growing food in a climate-controlled environment with the help of farmers. Additionally, students will develop life skills, learn how food plays a role in economic development, and engage the broader school community through greenhouse and sustainable agriculture activities.
Garden-based learning will offer an opportunity for special education students to gain valuable skills, including educational support and vocational training. It is also an evidence-based method of helping youth with sensory challenges incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets.
This project includes three key objectives:
- Establish full functionality of the East High School greenhouse for all students, especially those with disabilities and autism.
- Use the indoor garden to demonstrate the benefits of seasonally sustainable agricultural projects.
- Implement plan to integrate greenhouse plants into multiple entry points within the school, including through consumption and sale by students.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Consultations (4) – The East Occupational Therapy/Physical Therapy (OT/PT) Special Education team and Haley have met on three occasions for planning and development meetings regarding greenhouse projects. These have also included a local master gardener and REAP AmeriCorps members.
In addition, REAP / East personnel met with the Madison Metropolitan School District facilities manager and East HS facilities manager to discuss longterm improvements to the space, including installing a ventilation and fan system donated by University of Madison Horticulture department. We now have an estimate of cost ($20,000) and understanding of the required bidding process to pursue construction. We are in contact with East “adopt a school” partners who have funds to allocate toward school improvement projects to discuss donation possibilities, as well as looking into grant funding to make this next step in sustaining the greenhouse and improving production capability.
Curricula / Factsheets /Ed Tools (2) –
GrowLab, a curriculum published by the National Gardening Association, provides great ideas for integrating worksheets into student activities.
– A worm care guide was created by a REAP AmeriCorps team member alongside youth educator Haley Traun. Though we haven’t yet figured out a composting system that respects the school’s wishes and works well for students to access, bringing the REAP worm bins is a great way to engage students in discussions about composting and nutrient cycles
Youth engagement has grown steadily, with great room for growth in more heavily integrating entry points of the greenhouse into school activities, as well as involving greater numbers of students. Student use includes those enrolled in OT/PT and special education, which includes more individualized and group work depending on a students’ needs – these students access the greenhouse the most. Students enrolled in culinary arts and environmental science have also made connections through coursework such as using produce and testing the greenhouse water supply for metals.
Press / Articles / Newsletters (2) –
The grant proposal details the following outreach goals: Italicized have been completed, bolded are in progress
Article – featured on REAP website
– shared to 5 (goal of 10 across grant period) local news outlets (Isthmus, Capital Times, NBC15, Channel 3000, Wisconsin State Journal)
The sharing of this article did not produce content from the sources listed, but we are looking forward to sharing an end-of-year progress report with above sources as well as Madison Magazine, Badger Herald, Daily Cardinal, MATC Clarion, and La Comunidad (in Spanish) .
Article – shared by MMSD Facebook (9,063 followers)
– shared by local organization healthTIDE facebook (2,440 followers)
- Progress update and final results in East High School bi-monthly parent newsletter
- Progress update and final results in quarterly REAP Reporter newsletter – distributed to 1,700 people
Other education and outreach projects in progress include pre- and post-school-year surveys to students and staff involved in greenhouse, farmer visits and relevant community consultations. Valuable connections have been made to implement farmer engagement, but visits have proved difficult to establish with student schedules varying. We look forward to making more connections that will work logistically, while also exploring other innovative options such as farm visits or video production of farmer engagement so that we could take this piece to more students at any time.
Other student engagement that we are developing is activities with detailed worksheets to guide activities and assessment of student experience through various methods. We look forward to focusing on improving education based on student need, as well as solidifying methods of determining and recording student and community impact.
Year 1 of this project was largely focused on experimenting with what is possible in the greenhouse space, generating more staff, student, and community support, and determining possible challenges that we need to be aware of when carrying out this project.
Results include staff records of daily progress with production, records of consultations / meetings, ancedotal evidence / quotes from students and staff, and the recorded educational and community outreach detailed in previous sections of the report.
Based on what we have learned from year one, we have concluded that significant progress has been made on what works well for the students and staff, where connections with farmers and community resources and advocates can be further explored, and what activities we should administer more often and with more data collection included.
Through support with SARE funds, we have seen significant increased organizational support. This includes greater interest and participation from East High School staff, students, and supporters, as well as an additional small grant ($1,000) from Rotary Foundation of Madison to contribute to materials and staff time for the East greenhouse and another school garden program in the city. This momentum has been crucial for supporting East in their interest of this amazing school resource.
The success of this project has increased REAP's capacity to explore possibilities and methods for teaching urban agriculture to Madison students. Supporting this project demonstrates to REAP staff, supporters, and the larger school community that teaching youth about sustainable agriculture is possible despite school capacity and resources often being a challenge. The continuity of this project through seasons is also beneficial, as many school garden projects in the city struggle to maintain spaces for student use during the school year and organize labor during summer months. We look forward to exploring developments in farm-to-school programming that this project could inspire for the district. For example, food services doesn't currently accept student-grown produce in school meals. School garden sourcing could elevate agricultural connections for students and parents, which is an important aspect of sustainable food systems and food justice. Student, staff, and community support on positive school environment development can be a great catalyst to fostering change within the district. REAP will continue learning from the youth education and systematic components of this grant to color our work moving foward. We are confident that by the end of our grant period, East will continue to draw the support needed to advance and sustain this project.
- A student from East, who’s main classroom space in the school is connected to the greenhouse, looks forward to seeding, transplanting, and watering the plants most days He is integral in keeping the space clean, organized, and well looked after. Then student also enjoys taking plants home to share and care for. Student ownership of this space bolsters a positive environment as well as affirms the potential of this resource to improve student experiences.
- The sale of tomato seedlings and houseplants to East staff and their friends and families has been a great success. The students have raised over $400 to put toward sustaining the greenhouse through their hard work of raising and selling their plants. Now that they have seen the success of this piece of the greenhouse, they have committed to doing regular sales to coincide with yearly school schedules and events, including houseplant sales around the holidays to provide people with a clutterless and meaningful gift to give, geraniums for mother’s day, and vegetable seedlings at the end of the school year for planting in gardens during the summer. This also provides students involved with the greenhouse visibility throughout the school environment, which is important to students and staff. Plant sales provide purpose and goals related to the greenhouse production. Involving students, staff, families, and friends with the project shows a level of commitment and pride, as well as demonstrates a process of production and sale that can benefit student personal and vocational futures.
- Another successful outcome of this program has been the ability to integrate the culinary arts department with the production of food in the greenhouse. In fall 2019, there was enough basil and tomatoes to supply five class periods for an Italian recipe lab. This demonstrates to culinary students the benefits of sustainable, local sourcing, as well as creates visibility and real-world connections between the two student groups. As we improve the ability to produce vegetables and herbs in the greenhouse, this entry point will get stronger.
- A strong working connection with a local master gardener strengthens the program. She visits the greenhouse on a regular basis, and is able to use her expertise to inform and support East students and staff through this process in which many challenges arise, such as climate and humidity control, integrated pest management for whiteflies and aphids, plant nutrient care, and what types of produce will work best in the space (for example, cucumber seedlings were really fun for the students to grow, but once they reached maturity in the summer, it wasn’t successful for us to hand pollinate them and we weren’t able to actually produce cucumbers for consumption) Creating strong community connections allows everyone involved to learn more and feel supported.
December 2019 – Various herb seedlings and leftovers from holiday plant sale on rack. Also shows green worm bin from REAP office making an appearance for students. The fountain behind it was donated by the parent of the staff member who used to have it in his office. The greenhouse functions as a space for relaxation and mindfulness for the students and staff.
Students seeded herbs in winter 2019, and these were both transplanted to larger containers for use in classroom recipes or to take home.