Sunny Days Ahead for the Sunset Hill School Garden

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The vibrant town of Lawrence, Kan., is turning heads thanks to its successful school garden projects. After a great first year of the West Junior High garden project, which included the students selling produce at weekly school markets, other schools around Lawrence decided to take the gardening plunge and get involved.

Central Junior High, Corpus Christi Elementary, Free State High School, Hillcrest Elementary and Sunset Hill Elementary are all starting gardens. Earlier this month, I joined teachers, students and community members in a work day at Sunset Hill. The Community Mercantile Education Foundation, which helped start the West garden, helped secure grants for the Sunset Hill garden project from the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund and from the state.

It was a beautiful day in more ways than one. The weather was perfect, and standing back to watch people chatting, laughing and working hard together for something so cool just made me feel good. I didn’t know anyone when I arrived at the garden at 8 a.m. on our work day, but by the time I left a few hours later, I had chatted with Chris, the principal of the elementary school, Jim, a stay-at-home dad who just wanted to help out the community, Zach, a local teenager, and Nancy, director of education and outreach at the Community Mercantile, who brought us much-appreciated juice and snacks at the end of the work session. Here’s a bit of what we did during our work day.

We trimmed a few tree limbs from trees next to the garden in order to let in more sun (the wheelbarrow-as-ladder approach is not recommended for you to try at home!).

We dug out the path areas and put the loose soil from the paths onto the dedicated garden beds. After the paths were cleared, we lined them with paper to help keep out the weeds and then laid down wood mulch.

Thankfully, a dutiful broadfork was on hand! We used it to further loosen the soil in the bed areas and work in compost.

Almost done with the prep work!

We even had time at the end of the prep work to get a few potatoes in the ground. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there are many things better than seeing a kid planting food in a garden.

I feel confident that this garden will thrive with all the awesome, caring people that are happily volunteering their time, energy, expertise and enthusiasm. Here’s to many bright days ahead — and delicious garden-fresh veggies in the cafeteria — for Sunset Hill Elementary School.

Shelley Stonebrook is MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine’s main gardening editor. She’s passionate about growing healthy, sustainable food and taking care of our environment. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterestand .

Photos by Shelley Stonebrook