A collaborative garden project that involved the school district, the city and a local child-care business won top statewide honors from the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association.

A collaborative garden project that involved the school district, the city and a local child-care business won top statewide honors from the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association.

Cabbage patches, cucumber teepees, herbs and heirloom tomato plants were all featured in Reynoldsburg's Edible Schoolyard Project at Civic Park, which won a first-place state award in the OPRA Programs Recreation category. It will be presented Feb. 4 at OPRA's annual conference and trade show.

The Edible Schoolyard was a collaboration of the Reynoldsburg Parks and Recreation Department, Reynoldsburg schools and Kiddie Academy.

Joe Brown, director of the city's parks and recreation department, said the project was an educational component of a new Camp Adventure/Creative Explorers program. The goal was to "promote sustainable food production, nutrition and community service, while getting our children involved in gardening at a community level."

The camp was designed for children up to age 12.

"The effort and passion that was placed into this program, which started as a simple idea, is simply incredible and I couldn't be more proud of our staff for their commitment to our community and our children," Brown said. "This program is a true gift to our children and we look forward to watching it grow for years to come."

Throughout the state, 100 projects were nominated and 20 agencies were selected to receive either first-, second- or third-place awards.

Brown said students participated in the design of a 600-square-foot garden at Civic Park then planted and tended the garden under the supervision of Kiddie Academy STEM Coordinator Ruby White and members of the parks and recreation staff.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Brown said the students monitored a wildlife habit, grew a chef's garden, developed and maintained a compost bin, developed a bird-feeding station and implemented the use of rain-collection barrels for water.

They also donated 15 pounds of fresh produce to the Reynoldsburg Helping Hands food pantry.

White said the garden included a pepper patch; a wide variety of tomato plants, including heirloom, Roma, beefsteak, red and yellow Better Boy and wild cherry tomatoes; along with cucumbers and cabbages.

The wildlife habitat featured feeders for hummingbirds and other birds, as well as a ladybug house.

"It was my goal to create an outdoor classroom opportunity for kids to learn varying concepts of STEM, while also thinking about how food gets to their table," she said. "My ultimate vision is to create a mini-food system of youth STEM gardens within the school district that will provide enough produce for culinary workshops, demonstration plots and grow space for trending gardening methods."

White said 185 students participated in the camp.

"There were many days when we would have groups of 40-plus children tending to the garden," she said.

The children got a big boost for their garden goals from a $3,000 grant from the Reynoldsburg Fraternal Order of Eagles.

All plants were donated by the Highland Youth Community Garden, the Reynoldsburg Horticulturist department and neighboring gardeners at the Civic Community Garden.

The Fraternal Order of Eagles helped pay for craft and gardening supplies.

White said students participated in nutrition workshops where they learned the difference between whole and processed foods and worked together to create dishes from vegetables harvested from the garden.

"Students also participated in STEM initiatives by conducting science observations, reviewing plant and water cycles and soil structures," she said.

Some of the things White said she learned from the project were to emphasize smaller group sizes to maximize the garden experience, to communicate and demonstrate composting methods and that planning for the garden should begin at the start of spring.

"We are using the information we learned to implement best practices for next year by proposing a seed-starting program at Kiddie Academy, a project planning committee and working with local gardening and composting expert Dave Gublanc," she said.

White said the next steps for the garden project include applying for a United States Department of Agriculture grant.

"The grant would allow garden site expansion into all schools that Kiddie Academy participants attend," she said. "Also, chef demonstrations would be conducted in school cafeterias, as well as investigations into the current trends in sustainable agriculture, by focusing on vertical garden systems and aquaponics."