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It’s taken a community… now let’s grow!

by Morgan Smith

Parents, teachers and students of all ages gathered Saturday, March 10, for a build day at Polo Ridge Elementary School. The school recently received grant money and a soil donation, giving the go ahead for installation of an outdoor classroom, butterfly garden and vegetable garden on the school’s campus. Morgan Smith/SCW photo

Jay M. Robinson seventh-grader Cole Miller visited his elementary school alma mater Saturday to continue a garden project his fifth grade class helped start nearly two years ago.

Cole and around 15 of his fellow students, along with another 15 or so teachers and parents from Polo Ridge Elementary School, worked this weekend on several projects – which include an outdoor classroom and butterfly and vegetable garden. They’ll be used for learning opportunities for the relatively new campus and its teachers and students, who have been waiting for all the pieces to come together for quite some time.

The school recently received several grants and donations from the community to go toward the upkeep of an on-campus garden and a new outdoor classroom, making Saturday’s work finally possible. At the bulk of the grants is $7,000 from the Lowe’s at 2115 Matthews Township Pkwy., where the school purchased a loft-shed to house garden materials, a shelter and six picnic tables, plus supplies to install flower garden beds to attract butterflies and a pond.

When Polo Ridge opened in 2009, the school received a $2,500 Lowe’s grant to initially build a vegetable garden on campus to donate food to the Second Harvest Food Bank. But in 2010, the school couldn’t afford soil for the garden. Left with nothing but empty garden beds, Wendy White and Christiana Coburn, teachers at the school, decided to try again, with hopes of further expanding the outdoor facilities.

But even after money and plans fell into place, one thing kept standing in their way… soil.

“We didn’t do it last year cause we didn’t have any soil,” White explained. “We have a garden committee at school and they’ve been trying since September to get someone to donate compost. I started frantically emailing all these landscaping companies – only one called me back and actually delivered.”

Jim Lanier, founder of Earth Farms Organics, a local composting company with a mission of diverting organic waste from landfills, donated around 30 cubic yards of compost soil – an entire tractor-trailer load worth about $750 – to the school. The company frequently collects old food waste from area restaurants to compost and works with educational programs such as the one at Polo Ridge to teach children about the importance of recycling and composting.

“Kids can see how we take their food waste and make it back into soil,” Lanier said.  “Then they can take and plant a crop and see it harvest and take it back to their own tables.”

Earth Farms Organics also works with other Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, as well as schools in surrounding counties.

In one section of the Polo Ridge campus stands a new shed and 13 garden beds, reserved strictly for vegetables. One of those beds will house the Field to Fork program sponsored by Fuel Pizza, where one fourth-grade class will grow their own vegetables, tomatoes, spinach, garlic and basil to make fresh pizzas. The other 12 beds will house various vegetables such as beans, peas, okra and broccoli, with other vine vegetables such as zucchini, squash, eggplant and pumpkins in the fall, all to be donated to Second Harvest Food Bank or others in need.

“We just wanted to give back to the community a little bit,” White, the science facilitator at the school, said. “The kids think their food comes from Harris Teeter. They have no idea what goes into it. With this, they can get their hands dirty and actually learn something and take part from start to finish.”

And Cole, who currently has a younger brother and sister at the school, said he was happy to help out with the projects – especially the revamping of the garden.

“In fifth grade, I remember we used to talk about plants a lot, but we didn’t get to really visualize what was actually happening,” he said. “So by redoing the garden, kids will get a chance to be visual learners. Instead of just reading from a textbook, the kids will actually see what’s happening.

“And it’s really nice to see that kids can learn off of what we’ve done.”

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