This spring marks the third year students and others at Solway Elementary School will have the opportunity to plant seeds in their very own school garden.
The garden, which is 50 feet by 60 feet in size, started after the school district received a grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Program through the Minnesota Department of Health.
Since then, Marleen Webb, food services coordinator for the Bemidji School District, has written and attained numerous grants and has collaborated with several agencies and volunteers in order to keep the garden growing each year.
Students begin each spring by starting seeds in the classroom. Toward the end of the year, students plant their seedlings into the garden. In the summer, when students are away, volunteers from the school and community tend the garden by weeding and harvesting what has been grown.
Most of the food from the garden goes to feed hundreds of students who participate in the school district's summer food program. The rest of the food is incorporated into the fall school menu.
Potatoes, carrots, radishes, lettuce, beans, squash, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and more have been grown in the school's garden.
"It's a nice variety," Solway Elementary Principal Tami Wesely said Tuesday to members of an audience who came to watch a 30-minute documentary, "Farm to School: Growing Our Future," that was shown at Bemidji High School. "It's really an exciting way to teach kids the steps of planting, growing, harvesting and then seeing what they grew end up in their school lunch."
Members of the local Go and Whoa Harness Club assisted in plowing the garden through the use of horses, which Master Gardener Mary Lou Marchand said was one of the most exciting steps in making the school garden.
"We had the best time planting all the seeds," she said.
Deborah Dilley, community nutrition educator with the University of Minnesota Extension, said she was particularly pleased to help Solway Elementary start its school garden.
"I know from experience kids love to eat what they grow," she said. "Children who are not big vegetable eaters will oftentimes like the food that they grow. Or if they know it's coming from local farmers, they're much more likely to eat it."
Plans are in the works, Dilley added, to have her spend more time in the lunch room in schools next year to help educate students on the benefits of eating fresh, locally grown foods.
"It's been a lot of work from a lot of people," Dilley said of the Solway garden, "but it's been a wonderful project and I see it growing."