MARSHALL - It's harvest time at Marshall East Campus Learning Alternative (MECLA) in Marshall.
Having planted a salsa garden in the spring, students were excited this past week to see how the garden had prospered during the summer.
"Can you believe we did this?" MECLA student Marvellia Jones said.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
On Friday, Marshall East Campus Learning Alternative students Marvellia Jones, left, and Thom Ratajczak, along with Jorge Lizardo, Skylar Bahr and Matt Jenniges and, checked out the green bell peppers and other vegetables they helped to plant in a salsa garden this past spring. Along with adviser Jeanette Bosveld, the students plan to donate a good portion of their 2012 harvest to select organizations.
Whole group if you use it......
Front Row L-R : Marvellia Jones, Matt Jenniges. Back Row: Jorge Lizardo, Thom Ratajczak and Skylar Bahr
Under the direction of Jeanette Bosveld, a special education paraprofessional at MECLA, a number of students have gotten a garden education, beginning with the 16 students in Mitch Maxwell's biology class who worked the soil in raised beds this past spring.
"I got to till the soil," MECLA student Thom Ratajczak said. "I tried getting it all from the bottom and mixing it up and everything. Then, I raked it all over smooth to get ready to plant."
The past two years, MECLA students, including Jorge Lizardo, had helped construct the raised garden beds.
"I helped build the beds last year," Lizardo said. "I think they came out good. The best part was getting to see the results of the garden and how amazing it looks."
Lizardo admitted that he's a big salsa fan.
"I like any kind," he said. "At my house, we planted tomatoes and jalepenos."
The day after working the soil, Lizardo, Jones, Ratajczak and schoolmates Matt Jenniges and Skylar Bahr volunteered to plant the tomatoes, green bell peppers, jalepenos and habeneras. The students will also have access to an herb garden, including chives, sage, oregano, thyme, dill and cilantro, which has continued to sprout the past few years.
"The best part for me was playing in the dirt," Bahr said. "I helped plant tomatoes. The key was going down about two or three inches with the base root."
In the past, Bahr said he had helped plant a garden with his grandparents. Jenniges added that when he lived on a farm, he spent a great deal of time in the garden.
"I used to take care of my dad's garden a lot," Jenniges said. "That was four or five years ago. I'd go out and spend at least an hour in the garden every day."
Jenniges said his dad also thought highly of gardening.
"My dad always said that you can learn more out at a farm or in the garden than you can in school sometimes," Jenniges said.
Bosveld added that those skills people learn in the garden are ones that they can use their entire life.
"I've taught them about pinching back, how to plant, amending the soil and about grass mulching," she said. "They've also learned that you can grow herbs in a garden pot."
On Friday, Jenniges also spent a good deal of time cultivating another one of his passions - photography. Jenniges snapped countless up-close photos of the vegetation and surroundings.
"I love taking pictures," he said. "I want to go to school for photography."
While Bosveld and other community members tended to the garden throughout the summer, the responsibility is back on the shoulders of the students now that school is back in session. For some, there have already been first-time experiences, including Jones, who said she had never eaten a tomato in her life.
Along with Ratajczak and Lizardo, Jones tried a cherry tomato fresh off the vine on Friday. While it wasn't an overly pleasant experience for Jones' or Ratajczak's tastebuds, they were still proud of what they helped to accomplish in the garden.
"I love nature and knowing that I can do something like that," Jones said. "It's crazy to see how many tomatoes there are. I don't really eat salsa, but I know that my family loves it."
Ratajczak did enjoy smelling the different herbs.
"The oregano has a very strong smell," he said.
Ratajczak said he was "really excited" to plant everything.
"I really wanted to, especially since I've seen what we did," he said. "And, now, I cannot wait to make the salsa. I'm a huge salsa fan. The hotter the better."
Some time this month, the students will begin making "a ton of salsa," Bosveld said, using produce from the garden.
"On foods day, the kids will help prepare the salsa," she said. "They'll all have their own recipes, varying from hot to mild. The entire school gets salsa that day."
It's also a chance for the students to learn about cleanliness, safety and sharing. And, for the first time this year, with the extra produce, the students will begin making deliveries. This year, MECLA will donate food to the Marshall and Tyler food shelves and Esther's Kitchen in Marshall.
"The whole idea is that 'yes, we have families in need here,' but they can also give," Bosveld said. "It's nice to share. It makes it easier to receive at other times. Everybody's pitching in on this. It's more of a family out here."
Jones was enthusiastic about donating some food, especially since she has witnessed first-hand how people have been impacted by generosity.
"I volunteer at Esther's Kitchen and I would love to know that they get stuff to help other people," Jones said. "So I love that I help them out by doing this."
Even as deliveries are being made in the upcoming weeks, the learning will continue. Bosveld said that produce and herbs will continue being incorporated into meals at the school. It's a great experience, she said, especially since many students don't necessarily equate food, like tomatoes, with the end product, like salsa or spaghetti sauce.
"We'll use our own sage for the November dinner," she said. "In October, I'm not sure yet, but maybe we'll use chives in the omelets or something. In the spring, they'll do veggie kabobs."
The foods, Bosveld said, are all simple recipes that the students and staff can do at home.
"It's a different cooking technique every time," she said. "It's fun."