ASHLAND, Ore. (AP) — An organic garden has taken root at Ashland High School to boost local and sustainable lunchtime cafeteria options for students next academic year.
Organizers started weeding portions of the former Ashland Wilderness Charter School's overgrown backyard full of raised planting beds in early spring, and have been selling fresh produce for a few weeks to raise money for tools and other supplies.
Just shy of 1,000 square feet, the garden should be capable of producing 100 pounds of produce or more per week when it is growing at full capacity, said Chris Hardy, a garden manager for the Ashland School District.
The goal of the garden isn't to become the sole provider of produce for the cafeteria, he said, but to offer healthy and in-season food choices to students while also providing them with a hands-on educational opportunity.
"It's the qualitative aspect that we are concentrated on with the garden at the high school," said Hardy, who also is a farm manager at the Ashland Village Farm. "With sustainable farming the focus usually isn't directed toward the quantity of food being produced."
The idea for the project sprang up at the beginning of this year through an AHS student club called Superheroes of Sustainability, which was started by 2011 graduate Sophie Javna, 17, of Ashland. Through the club, Javna invited members of the community, who are on the forefront of sustainable practices, for lunch-hour presentations and discussions with students.
After about three months, Javna had gathered a small core of five or six students who were regular participants in the discussions with guest speakers, she said.
"It all grew from that," Javna said. "My interest starting becoming more focused around local and sustainable food practices, and we decided that what we really wanted to do was get more local foods into the cafeteria."
After discussing options within the club, Javna pitched the idea of an on-campus garden for providing food to the cafeteria to AHS Principal Michelle Zundel, and she was all for it.
The details behind the pricing and transfer process from the garden to cafeteria have yet to be worked out, Javna said.
Having gardened only a couple of times, Javna knew she and the other students were going to need someone with experience to get the project off the ground, so she called Hardy.
"We needed somebody who actually knew what they were doing, because none of us did," Javna said. "He's been an incredible mentor and partner through this entire process ". without him absolutely none of this would have been possible."
Hardy and Javna, along with a handful of students and AHS science teacher Jim Hartman, who plans to work the garden into some of his curriculum next year, are the foundation of the project, Javna said.
Together, the group has been working in the garden since March, and currently has eight 4-by-12-foot raised beds growing produce. There is cabbage, an herb garden, tomatoes, wild mustard, lettuce, kale, chard, lemon balm, a strawberry patch and plenty more, Javna said. Portions of the garden already had some perennial plants, from when the Wilderness Charter School was using it, but the majority of it has been replanted by the new group, and it has been a lot of work, she said.
Javna has put in more hours than she can count at the garden since March, she said, and remembers one two-week stretch where she worked there every day.
"I became so inspired by the idea that it turned into like an obsession," she said. "If you came to see the garden and you saw the food growing in it you'd know what I mean. You just stick your hands in the dirt, then you're immediately hooked."
Although Javna said the support for the garden from the community has been "overwhelming so far," the group of gardeners is still shorthanded. All of the tools for the garden have been donated, mostly by local garden supply stores, or purchased with a large contribution by Hartman, Javna said, but it's nowhere near enough.
Javna, who is leaving the country for Tibet and Nepal in the next few months and plans to enroll at Colorado College, said she hopes a student will volunteer to take on the project for next year. Hardy has agreed to continue making contributions, and said he is developing an internship next year for a student who wants to work in the garden.
"Really what this beginning has been is laying the groundwork for the project and trying to make it something that has a structure for next year," Javna said. "I want this to be something lasting and something that is a part of the school years down the road."
Javna is returning from her trip at the beginning of December to check on the garden, she said, but won't be sticking around Ashland long. It's either off to New York to study jazz music and singing, which is one of her most cherished passions, or somewhere unknown with the organization World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, which pays room and board in exchange for participants working on farms around the world.
"Either would be just fine with me," she said. "I just hope someone steps up to the plate for our garden ". being out there has become one of my passions. I love it. Hopefully someone else will feel the same way."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.