A place to grow and harvest

Second graders Doreen Umumararungu and Zenobia Henigan munch bell peppers

Between the corridors of West Godwin Elementary is a courtyard area. Last spring, it was all pavement and grass. Now, it’s brimming with sunflowers, zucchini, watermelons, carrots, and cucumbers.

The new garden is a collaboration between West Godwin’s T.E.A.M. 21 after school program and H.O.P.E. Gardens, a Wyoming-based nonprofit that teaches students in grades K-12 about sustainable ways to grow food while “Helping Other People Eat,” which is what the name stands for.

First grader A’Sahra Kanjia explores the garden

Ellen Veenkant is the site coordinator for the building’s T.E.A.M. 21 program. Last April, she received a grant from the Michigan Community Service Council to plant the garden.

On their first visit to the garden, students had the opportunity to harvest two items to take home.

“My favorite food was the watermelon. It was juicy,” said first grader Aixi Medina-Mati. “I like that we get to plant veggies and fruit. I liked eating the basil leaves too. It’s important to have a garden so we can get flowers and food.”

“Who wants to sample some cucumbers?” Julie Brunson asked students.

“Meeeeeeee!” answered a chorus of first, second, and third graders.

Julie and her husband, Rich Brunson, visit the school every other week and work with students to maintain the garden. The Brunsons founded H.O.P.E. Gardens to fulfill an idea dreamed up by Rich, who had experienced homelessness and hunger as a teen in the Wyoming area.

Second grader Andy Valenzuela samples the harvest

The couple work alongside students, teaching them about sunflowers, encouraging them to chew mint leaves, and showing them what’s ripe for the picking.

Julie said that besides the obvious benefits of teaching students to garden and providing fresh produce, there is another plus to a garden at school: working in the dirt is good for you, and can uplift your mood. Students don’t always realize it, she said, but this is their happy place.

The Brunsons want students to take ownership of the space. Julie makes a habit of starting discussions by asking students, ‘Whose garden is this?”

“Our garden!” is the answer.

While H.O.P.E. Gardens is doing similar work in other districts, this garden is the first of its kind in Godwin Heights Public Schools.

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Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting. Read Bridie's full bio or email Bridie.

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