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Midvale Journal

Midvale Middle’s harvest is more than just about the crops

Oct 01, 2018 01:54PM ● By Jana Klopsch

After the ribbon cutting, Midvale Middle Schools students weeded and planted vegetables in their new community garden last spring. (Photo courtesy of Amber Pearson)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

This fall, the harvest will not only be zucchini, peppers and cucumbers. It will include friendships, partnerships and bonds between students and families.

Midvale Middle School’s first harvest comes after eighth-grade teacher Robert Violano introduced the idea two years ago at a National Junior Honor Society meeting.

“I had taken a class, ‘Social Justice and Community Gardening,’ for my masters in education and visited West Lake Junior High’s garden, and realized the potential a garden can have for a community and at the same time, be an excellent teaching tool,” he said. “I thought it would work out well at our school and community so I threw it out to the students. They immediately liked the idea and thought it would be a great service opportunity they could provide.”

While the group was excited, they weren’t able to dig dirt right away since, at the time, they were rehoused in Crescent View Middle while Midvale Middle School was under construction. 

“They really liked the idea of giving back and having it go directly to the people and seeing how it could make a difference,” Violano said. “So, while we couldn’t dig right away, we approached the idea other ways.”

Through the rebuild period, NJHS, along with Midvale Middle’s Latinos in Action — both groups which provide service to the community — drafted and sent letters to then Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini, Canyons School District Superintendent Jim Briscoe, then school principal Wendy Dau and now current principal Mindy Robison, explaining their project and why they wanted a community garden.

“The response was overwhelming — ‘go ahead, we support you,’” Violano said. “So then, the students dove in, researching community gardens. They looked into the materials they’d need and what designs worked best.”

After weeks of research and deciding to build community garden boxes, the students wrote letters to the architects and contractors, who were building the new Midvale Middle School. The students were able to meet with them, he said.

“The students worked quite a bit before the meeting and they were told their designs looked awesome. The firms just adjusted them to make them a little more realistic and came back, offering to pay for it and they built it. They created the boxes with dirt, mulch, irrigation. I didn’t expect that. I was just blown away,” Violano said.

By not needing to fundraise for the garden’s materials, it allowed the first year’s crops to be planted last spring after the ribbon cutting on April 25.

“Last year’s students’ focus quickly shifted after the garden boxes were built from possibly seeking funds to researching which vegetables and soil worked best and what is a good rotation for the garden. Students also looked at how to get the community involved and how to get donations for tools and seeds,” he said.

A parent also stepped up, volunteering to show students how to install a drop line so they could install them in all 12 boxes.

The pilot planting has three families using the boxes as well as two boxes with tomatoes, rosemary and hot peppers planted by NJHS and LIA students. In time, he’d like to develop the garden more and even possibly, set up a farmer’s market.

“I can see how much more we can do to give some of our families a space of their own for free to plant food that will benefit their families,” said Violano, who said that he has never gardened before in his life. “It means so much to them.”

He also has introduced some of the concepts into his classroom.

“It’s been great to teach students about planting. We planted sunflowers this year and put them in the windows of the hallway. Some students aren’t even familiar with gardening or where their food comes from,” Violano said. “We grew some sprouts and I suggested the students pick some to eat. One student told me ‘you can’t eat it; it’s not from a store.’ This is giving the students the hands-on learning opportunity to learn where food comes from — so many students are disconnected from that.”

However, he sees most of the focus on the community garden to remain with the student leaders, families and partners in the community. 

“What’s really neat is that these students in NJHS and LIA started all this and it already is benefitting their classmates and the entire community,” Violano said.