|Students nourish a community garden |
LIZ HAMLIN , Staff Writer, Mt. Olive, NJ Chronicle 04/28/2004
MOUNT OLIVE TWP Neighbors will garden, vegetables will ripen, and flowers will bloom on the former site of the township's recycling center this summer.
The gardens are part of a three-year project of young environmentalists at the middle school on Wolfe Road.
The project, known as the Mount Olive Township Community Gardens, is the result of the inspiration and efforts of hundreds of middle school students and their environmental science teacher, Ryan McCrea.
Last weekend, McCrea and three of the young gardeners, Nicolette Rossmell, Kyle Gulick and Tyler Van Glahn, traveled to California to accept a $10,000 Environmental Excellence Award from Sea World/Busch Gardens.
The award, given in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, is one of only eight such awards given across the country this year.
In addition to the prize money, the award included the all-expenses paid trip for the four to the award ceremony, with a visit to Sea World in San Diego thrown in for fun.
According to McCrea, the original idea for the garden came from three students in 2000. The students were looking for a way to do some community service with an environmental slant.
"Those three girls knew they would only be in on the groundwork, a year of paperwork," McCrea said.
With McCrea's help, they did the year of paperwork, and by the end of the year, they had a plan and a place.
The old municipal recycling center, adjacent to the school, was the place.
"Both the township and the school wanted something to beautify the land, and the school wanted something to help kids learn and to give something back to the community," said McCrea.
In April 2001 the township leased the land to the school for five years.
Meanwhile, students continued to develop the plan, establishing a leadership team and teams for all the other tasks involved, including finance, publicity, environmental improvement, education, community involvement, planting, and building and maintenance.
McCrea said the students have learned and exercised a variety of skills on the project, from botany to planning, and from brochure design to team building.
"The students' hands are in the whole thing," McCrea said. "They drive it."
McCrea teaches environmental science as a "cycle" or elective course to seventh and eighth graders. Much of the work on the garden is done by the students in the courses, while the planning continues to be done by the leadership team, meeting during lunch and after school.
In addition, an after-school Environmental Education Club allows anyone in the school to participate in all aspects of the garden.
While the Sea World award is the largest single gift to the garden, the group has earned support from several different national sources, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Light of Day Foundation, the National Gardening Association, and the National Wildlife Federation.
Closer to home, the middle school PTA has provided funds for a butterfly garden, and the Mount Olive Education Foundation has provided a gazebo, with seating for a class of 30.
In just three years, the students have transformed the half acre site, which sits between their school and the current township library.
Themed flower gardens will occupy the front of the site, including the butterfly garden, a hummingbird garden, and a memorial garden. The student teams are currently considering a medicinal herb garden, a culinary herb garden, and a garden of heroes.
The gazebo will host classes and workshops.
"The kids are really looking forward to reading out there," McCrea said.
The middle of the site will be devoted to 80 "adoptable" plots of seven foot diameter circles, all prepared with weed blocking and new top soil. The students planned the plots with residents of the township's apartment complexes in mind.
"They wanted to provide the space for people who want a vegie garden," but don't have access to garden space, McCrea said.
The rear of the garden will be for educational experimental plantings.
According to McCrea, the whole project is highly structured, but the students contribute such a variety of skills.
"They are getting a chance to see that everything can connect to the environment," she said.
McCrea is very positive about the project's "hands-on" effects on the students.
"They are getting to see all these links, and to see how their individual talents can benefit their community," she said.
"There are a thousand things screaming at these kids that they have no value. This says that you matter to us, to your community and to the environment, in ways above and beyond what they could have imagined before," McCrea said.