Grandview Heights garden club students bask in outdoor work
Weeds, it turns out, pay no attention to quarantine orders.
That's why students who participate in the garden club at Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School in Grandview Heights will be active this summer, even though school isn't in session and despite social-distancing precautions spurred by the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Students began planting various vegetables and plants May 16 at the garden, adjacent to the kindergarten annex building across from the school, 1240 Oakland Ave., said club adviser and Edison/Larson Spanish teacher Carmen Mendoza.
"We started slow this year because the weather's been so wet and cold during the spring," Mendoza said.
When the pandemic forced the closure of the school building in March, the club's meetings, like student learning in general, were held online, she said.
"I put out some bags of seeds on my front porch the students could pick up and take home with them," said Mendoza, who lives in Grandview.
"We have (had) an online garden club with mostly fifth-grade students (entering sixth grade in the fall) who are growing food at home," she said. "We share ideas and images of our plants."
About 13 or 14 students participate regularly in the garden club, including a few sixth-graders and a high schooler, Mendoza said.
She said she wanted to make sure students had an opportunity to work in the school garden through the spring and summer growing season.
"There are so many summer activities and programs that have been canceled because of COVID-19," she said. "It's really important to give the students something that allows them to get out of the house, spend some time outside and with each other."
Strict social-distancing measures will be maintained throughout the summer at the school garden, Mendoza said.
A limited number of students will be allowed to be in the garden at any one time, she said.
Students will work in the garden on a rotating schedule and will be required to stay at least 6 feet apart from one another and wear masks when they are in the garden, Mendoza said.
Either Mendoza or a parent will oversee each gardening session to make sure students follow the guidelines, she said.
A variety of items have been planted at the garden, including tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and peppers, Mendoza said.
When the plants are harvested, students will take home some of the produce, and other items will be distributed to the Heart to Heart Food Pantry at First Community Church in Marble Cliff, she said.
Lily Rickert said she and other club members couldn't wait to get out in the garden and start planting this year's crop.
"We were so excited to get at it," she said. "It was just nice to get out and get to see my friends. Working in the garden, we're spaced out far enough to be safe, but not so far that we can't talk to each other."
Her family has a garden in the backyard that Lily said she helps tend each summer.
"I'm the kind of person who likes to get her hands dirty," she said. "I love working in the dirt. It's really calming, plus there's the reward of watching something you're working on grow."
Twin sisters Maggie and Maura Yates are participating in the garden club not just for the fun of it but also as valuable experience that might help them further their ultimate career goals.
Their vision is to someday partner in a restaurant venture -- Maura would own the restaurant and plan the menu using food that Maggie grows at her farm.
The twins already have come up with a name for the restaurant: Spoon and Spade, Maura said.
"When I grow up, I want to be a farmer. I just like to be outside because it makes me feel happy," Maggie said. "I also love animals, so having a farm would give me a chance to be around a lot of animals."
Gardening brings a harvest of pride and satisfaction, she said.
"I help out in our family garden," Maggie said. "It's just so awesome to be able to watch as the seeds you planted and work on grow into a plant you can harvest.
"When you grow something yourself, it tastes so much better," she said.
Maura said she's enjoying the summer garden project.
"I love being able to be outside with my friends and just be able to talk with each other," she said. "It's fun to be involved in a club because you're getting to spend time with other people who share your interest."
During the normal school year, the garden club helps maintain tower gardens in several classrooms at Edison/Larson. The lettuce and other produce grown via the indoor, vertical gardens, as well as kale grown during the winter in the school garden, are harvested and served to students at lunch in the cafeteria.
"It's so amazing to see other students enjoying food that you know you helped grow," said Chloe Castle. "It's so rewarding to see all your hard work pay off like that."
Food you grow yourself "just tastes so much better than store-bought food," she said. "It's fresher and you know where it comes from."
While she's been away from the school building, Chloe has been growing a variety of plants at home, including aloe, basil and zinnias, using seeds she received from Mendoza.
"I really enjoy going on Google and finding out the amount of water that's required for each plant and other information about how to make them grow," she said.
It's also been fun for garden-club members to get together online and exchange ideas and tips for gardening at home, Chloe said.
"We've been able to stay in touch," she said. "I like getting to see Senora Mendoza and my friends."
When she joined the garden club as a fourth-grader, Chloe said she didn't have a lot of gardening experience.
"It's fun because you get to learn a lot of stuff that really helps you become a better gardener," she said.
It also helped her earn a second-place prize in the junior division flower category at the spring 2019 garden show at Kingswood Center Gardens in Mansfield.
"It felt great when my name was called," she said. "I was, like, 'oh my gosh.' "
It was exciting to win the award -- but the real reward of gardening comes from the experience itself, she said.