Growing school gardens


Bennett Thompson ’12 (left) and Ben West ’12 (right) stand by a poster advertising West High’s Slow Foods club at the Johnson County Food Alliance’s Growing School Gardens event Sept. 24.


Bennett Thompson '12 (left) and Ben West '12 (right) stand by a poster advertising West High's Slow Foods club at the Johnson County Food Alliance's Growing School Gardens event Sept. 24.

School gardens are growing in more ways than one, emphasized Heather Widmayer, a member of the Johnson County Local Food Alliance, at the event she hosted on Sept. 24 at the Iowa City Public Library for gardeners to present about their efforts to start plots in the ICCSD. Later in the program, West High’s own Bennett Thompson ’12 and Ben West ’12 took their turn at the podium to talk about the garden they started on West High’s campus last spring.

Their goal, they said, is pretty simple: to get more students growing and eating local food. This is accomplished both through the garden they broke ground on last year and the integration of local foods in to the school cafeteria. In fact, slow foods is now certified as an official provider for the West High cafeteria, providing donations like tomatoes served at the sandwich bar.

But Thompson and West emphasized that the most rewarding part of the garden wasn’t it’s official status – but rather the learning that happened out on the plot.

“We would pull something out of the ground and kids would go, ‘What’s that?'” Thompson said. He described the fun the club had learning about new ingredients and how to use them – even if there are few mess ups and messes made along the way. “We don’t have quotas [of  produce] to reach, so it’s a wonderful experience even if people step on a few plants while weeding,” Thompson said.

Although the height of the season passed with flying colors this summer – slow foods members enjoyed kale, tomatoes, radishes, lettuce and bunches more and donated excess produce to local shelters – the garden is still going strong. Slow foods members were even out planting garlic yesterday. Slow Foods club meets on Fridays in room 122.

This green thumb has spread across the district as school gardens have sprouted up elsewhere in the community – Longfellow, Kirkwood, Coralville Central, Penn and Twain Elementaries all have student gardens taking root.

And Scott Koepke presented about his traveling garden and composting education class called Soilmates. Koepke was a speaker at West High’s Focus the Nation event last March.

The event was one of many put on by the Johnson County Local Foods Alliance – they are behind the spring greens day held last spring to serve local greens in all the cafeterias in the district and they’ve helped provide school’s with apples from Wilson’s Apple Orchard once a week. The organization is hosting a benefit dinner tomorrow, Sept. 25, at Hotel Vetro. Local chefs will use local ingredients to prepare an elaborate meal for guests. Tickets to the Harvest Dinner are $50, and are still available at or at the New Pioneer Coop.