By Peggy Mackenzie
In the pastoral unincorporated township of Smoot, the Smoot Elementary School sits atop a low hill where a Farm to School project is quietly developing. Near the central picnic area, where the pre-K to fifth grade students take their lunch on sunny days, is a new greenhouse and raised bed garden area, situated in front of Monica Crookshanks’ first grade classroom. Last year Crookshanks oversaw a student-led project to grow salad greens as an over-the-winter supplement to the school cafeteria. The students also planted and grew tomatoes and green peppers, which they sold to the surrounding community during the last few weeks of school. That small venture brought satisfaction and success, and Crookshanks decided to expand.
Her first order of business was to write a grant to fund the purchase of a greenhouse, now on site and currently overgrown with vegetables and flowers ready to go into the ground. The garden project has nine raised beds, one for each classroom to plant their own vegetables. She hopes to generate a more robust level of locally grown vegetables available the Smoot community. Crookshanks said the third, fourth, and fifth graders, who qualify as national honor society students, will have the privilege to be greenhouse helpers on a rotating monthly schedule. It’s all about learning and gaining experience, she said.
The garden project director is Ariel Kennedy, an Americorp volunteer, serving at the Smoot Elementary School. The garden, she said, is still undergoing site improvements. Kennedy said the school applied for a $5,000 grant, called Toolbox for Education from Lowe’s Home Improvement, which has provided the picket fencing for the garden, gravel, cement, ground tiles and the shelving to go inside the greenhouse.
Also on hand at Smoot Elementary is Emily Landseidel, the Americorp coordinator for the state’s Office of Child Nutrition, whose oversight of the Farm to School project is to find ways to provide an increase of fresh, healthy, local vegetables for kids. When kids know where their food comes from, Landseidel said, they are more likely to eat them, especially when they grow them themselves. From an economic development point of view, the Farm to School project offers another diversification marketplace for local farmers by offering their produce to schools, Landseidel said.
Another interesting aspect of the Farm to School garden project includes Frank Adkins’ robotics program. Adkins is the school’s shop class consultant and father to principal Holly Adkins-Judy. One of the tools the honor students will be using is a microprocessor that will monitor the soil and plants for pH levels, moisture, and temperature. The students will also use a 3-D replicator to make extra widgets, nuts and bolts, hinges, and duplicate almost any spare part they may need. Adkins said the computer programs in the shop teach students how make 3-D drawings and how to produce objects out of the plastic-like source material, called PLA, a derivative of corn starch that insures it’s safe for kids, he said.
“These are the tools of a 21th century shop class,” Adkins said. Shop class is no longer a hammer-and-saw woodworking class. Some day, Adkins went on, these same simple X, Y, and Z axis programs, which are the basis for 3-D imagers, will likely be used to create the first off-planet shelter for humans should we ever colonize on Mars.
This is the vision of Smoot Elementary School, it would seem: to offer hands on experiences for the youngsters and nurture their appetites for what the future might bring. Perhaps it’s no accident that Smoot Elementary has produced a surprising number of high school valedictorians over the years.