Flowers, produce to yield bumper crop of learning

First-grader Bret Strietelmeier digs for worms

Four raised-bed gardens sprouting with carrots and beets, a 16-by-16 foot pumpkin patch and a butterfly garden are adding produce, foliage and pollinators to the Marshall Elementary schoolyard.

Students and staff members recently broke ground on their lush plat, planned through H.O.P.E (Helping Other People Eat) Gardens, with the goal of teaching students to cultivate plants that result in a nourishing harvest to feed people in need.

Sunflowers will grow along the walls of the school building and sweet peas will climb the sides of a gazebo, which is lined with planters growing herbs. The butterfly garden will serve as a sensory garden for cognitively impaired students as well as to attract monarchs and swallowtails.

“I’m really excited to watch the flowers and plants grow,” said first-grader Samantha Lehman. She and her classmates all got to plant a seed in a pot to keep and watch grow over the summer.

First-grader Madison Gradnigo plants a seed in rich soil

Helping People Eat

Rich and Julie Brunson, of Byron Center, founded H.O.P.E Gardens to teach people to grow food. They have helped install organic, no-till gardens at several schools, including Byron Center’s Countryside Elementary, Wyoming Public Schools and various organizations.

Rich Brunson, who was homeless as a teenager, knows the struggles of food insecurity.  “We want to come alongside people, empower people, and equip people to do things for themselves,” he said. ”I can help people eat, to feed themselves.”

Grace Rudolph, mom to Marshall first-grader Sophia Rudolph, became aware of H.O.P.E Gardens during a gardening event hosted by her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. She said she loved the interest Grace showed. “Seeing the excitement of one child, we just wanted to bring it to the whole school.”

Marshall staff and parents received help from district administrators who built the raised bed garden boxes and donations from area businesses.

“Anytime you can do this outdoor, experiential hands-on learning, it’s so impactful, powerful and meaningful for students,” said Principal John Krajewski. “This is going to be a lot of fun and allow for some wonderful learning about science and how things grow here in the future.”

Instruction will include curriculum connections at each grade level and in STEM Class. Students will learn the butterfly life cycle, how to diagram seeds, and how to identify living and non-living things.

With harvested vegetables, Rudolph and other PTA members plan to add a snack table in the cafeteria and send each child home with a pumpkin for Halloween.

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H.O.P.E Gardens

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio

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